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The following Memoir had its origin in an article 
on Cardinal Mezzofanti, contributed to the Edin- 
burgh Review in the year 1855. The subject ap- 
peared at that time to excite considerable interest. 
The article was translated into French, and, in an 
abridged form, into Italian ; and I received through 
the editor, from persons entirely unknown to me, 
more than one suggestion that I should complete 
the biography, accompanied by offers of additional 
information for the purpose. 

Nevertheless, the notices of the Cardinal on 
which that article was founded, and which at that 
time comprised all the existing materials for a bio- 
graphy, appeared to me, with aU their interest, to 
want the precision and the completeness which are 
essential to a just estimate of his attainments. I 
felt that to judge satisfactorily his acquaintance 
with a ran^e of lanofuao-es so vast as that which fame 


ascribed to him, neither sweeping statements founded 
on popular reports, however confident, nor general 
assertions from individuals, however distinguished 
and trustworthy, could safely be regarded as suffi- 
cient. The proof of his familiarity with any par- 
ticular language, in order to be satisfactory, ought 
to be specific, and ought to rest on the testimony 



either of a native, or at least of one whose skill in 
the language was beyond suspicion. 

At the same time the interest with which the 
subject seemed to be generally regarded, led me to 
hope that, by collecting, while they were yet recent, 
the reminiscences of persons of various countries 
and tongues, who had known and spoken with the 
Cardinal, it might be possible to lay the foundation 
of a much more exact judgment regarding him 
than had hitherto been attainable. 

A short inquiry satisfied me that, although scat- 
tered over every part of the globe, there were still 
to be found living representatives of most of the 
languages ascribed to the Cardinal, who would be 
able, from their own personal knowledge, to declare 
whether, and in what degree, he was acquainted 
with each ; and I resolved to try whether it might 
not be possible to collect their opinions. 

The experiment has involved an extensive and 
tedious correspondence ; many of the persons whom 
I have had to consult being ex-pupils of the Pro- 
paganda, residing in very distant countries ; more 
than one beyond the range of regular postal com- 
munication, and only accessible by a chance mes- 
sage transmitted through a consul, or through the 
friendly offices of a brother missionary. 

For the spirit in Avhich my inquiries have been 
met, I am deeply grateful. I have recorded in the 
course of the narrative the names of many to whom 
I am indebted for valuable assistance and informa- 
tion. Other valued friends whom I have not named, 
will kindly accept this general acknowledgment. 


There is one, however, to whom I owe a most 
special and grateful expression of thanks — his Emi- 
nence the Cardinal Archbishop of TVestminster. 
From him, at the very outset of my task, I received 
a mass of anecdotes, recollections, and suggestions, 
which, besides their great intrinsic interest, most 
materially assisted me in my further inquiries ; and 
the grace of the contribution was enhanced by the 
fact, that it was generously withdrawn from that 
delightful store of Personal Recollections which his 
Eminence has since given to the public ; and in which 
his brilliant pen would have made it one of the most 
attractive episodes. 

Several of the autographs, also, which appear in 
the sheet of fac-similes, I owe to his Eminence. 
Others I have received from friends who are named 
in the Memoir. 


PREFACE, pp. v-vii. 

Ancient period :.~ 

History of Linguists little known — Legendary Linguists — the 
Jews — The Asiatics — The Greeks — Mithridates — Cleopatra — The 
Romans — Prevalence of Greek under the Empire — The Early Chris- 
tians — Decline of the Study — Separation of the two Empires — The 
Crusaders — Frederic II — The Moorish Schools in Spain — Council 
of Vienne— Roderigo Ximenes — Venetian travellers — Fall of Con- 
stantinople-.-Greeks in Italy — Complutensian Polyglot, pp. 3-18. 
Modern period : — 

I. Linguists of the East. Dragomans — Genus Bey — Jonadab 
Alhanar — Interpreters in the Levant — Ciceroni at Mecca — Syrian 
Linguists — The Assemani — Greeks — Armenians — The Mechitar- 
ists, ...... pp. 18-24. 

II. Italian Linguists. Pico della Mirandola — Teseo Ambrosio — ■ 
Pigafetta — Linguistic Missionary Colleges — The Propaganda — 
Schools of the Religious Orders — Giggei — Galani — Ubicini — 
Maracci — Podesta — Piromalli — Giorgi — De Magistris — Finetti — 
Valperga de Galuso — The De Rossis, - - pp. 25-34. 

III. Spanish and Portuguese Linguists. Fernando di Cprdova — 
Covilham — Libertas Cominetus — Arias Mantanus — Del Rio — Lope 
de Vega — Missionaries — Antonio Fernandez — Carabantes — Pedro 
Paez — Hervaz-y-Pandura, _ - - pp. 34-41. 

IV. French Linguists. Postel — Polyglot-Pater-Nosters — Sca- 
liger — Le Cluse — Peiresc — Chasteuil — Duret — Bochart — Puguet — 
Le Jay — De la Croze — Renaudot — Fourmont — Deshauterayes — De 

Guignes Diplomatic affairs in the Levant — De Paradis, Langles — 

Abel Remusat — Modern School, Julien, Bournouf, Renan, Fresnel, 
the d'Abbadies, - - - - - pp. 41-58. 

V. German, Dutch, Flemish, and Hungarian Linguists. Miiller — 
(Regiomantanus)— Bibliander — Gesner — Christmann — Drusius — 
Schultens— Maes — Haecx — Gramaye — Erpen — The Goliuses — Hot- 
tinger— Kircher— Ludolf— Rothenacker — Andrew Miiller — Witzen — 


Wilkins— Leibnitz— Gerard MuUer— Schlotzer— Buttner— Michae- 
li?_Catholic Missionaries— Richter, Fritz, Widmann, Grebmer, 
Dobritzhofer, Werdin— Berchtold, Adelung, Vater, Pallas, Klap- 
roth, Niebuhr, Humboldt and his School— Castren, Rask, Bunsen, 
Biblical Linguists— Hungarian Linguists— Csoma de Koros, 

pp. 39.81. 

VI. British and Irish Linguists. Crichton— Andrews— Gregory — 
Castell, Walton, Pocock, Ockley, Sale, Clarke, Wilkins, Toland, 
" Orator" Henley, Carteret, Jones, Marsden, Colebrooke, Craufurd, 
Lumsden, Leyden, Vans Kennedy, Adam Clarke, Roberts Jones, 
Young, Pritchard, Cardinal Wiseman, Browning, Lee, Burritt, 

pp. 81-99. 

VII. Slavoniaii Linguists. Russians — Scantiness of Materials — 
Early Period — Jaroslav, Boris — The Romanoffs — Berunda Pameva, 
Peter the Great, Catherine I., Mentschikoff, Timkoffsky, Bitchou- 
sin, Igumnoff, Giganoff, Schubinoff, Goulianoif, Senkowsky, Gretsch, 
Kazem-Beg — Po/es— Meninski, Groddek, Bobrowski, Albertrandy, 
Rzewuski, Italinski — Bohemians — Komnensky, Dobrowsky, Hanka, 

pp. 99-110. 

Miraculous gift of tongues— Royal Linguists— Lady-Linguists— 
Infant Phenomena -Uneducated Linguists, - pp. 110-121. 


CHAPTER I. (1774-98.) ' 
Birthand family history — Legendary tales — Early education — First 
masters — School friends — Ecclesiastical studies — Illness and interrup- 
tion of studies— Study of languages — Anecdote — Ordination — Ap- 
pointmeftt as Professor of Arabic — Deprivation of professorship, 

pp. 125-147. 
CHAPTER II. (1798-1802.J 

Straitened circumstances — Private tuition — The Marescalchi 
family — The military hospitals — Manner of study — the Magyar, 
Czchish, Polish, Russian, and Flemish languages — Foreigners — The 
Confessional — Intense application — Examples of literary labour, 

pp. 148-161. 

CHAPTER III. (1803-1806.) 
Appointed as Asssistant Librarian of the Istituto di Bologna — 
Catalogue Raisonne — Professorship of Oriental Languages — Paper 

on Egyptian obelisks — De Rossi correspondence with him — Polyglot 

translations — Caronni's account of him — Visit to Pai'raa, Pezzana, 


Bodoni — Persian — Illness — Invitation to settle at Paris — Domestic 
relations — Correspondence — Translations, - pp. 162-190. 

CHAPTER IV. (1807-14.) 
Labour of compiling Catalogue — His skill as linguist tested by 
the Russian Embassy — Deprivation of Professorship — Death of his 
mother — Visit to Modena and Parma — Literary friends — Giordani's 
account — Greek scholarship — Bucheron's trial of his Latinity — 
Deputy Librarianship of University — Visitors — Lord Guildford — 
Learned societies — Academy of Institute — Paper on Mexican sym- 
bolic Paintings, - - - - - pp. 191-204. 

CHAPTER V. (1814-17.) 
Restoration of the Papal Government — Pius "VT^I. at Bologna — 
Invites Mezzofanti to Rome — Re-appointment as Professor of Oriental 
languages — Death of his father — Notices of Mezzofanti by Tour- 
ists— Kephalides — Appointed head librarian — Pupils — Angelelli — 
Papers read at Academy, - - - - pp. 205-18. 

CHAPTER VI. (1817-20.) 
• Tourists' Notices of Mezzofanti — Society In Bologna — Mr. Har- 
ford — Stewart Rose — Byron — The Opuscoli Letterarj di Bologna — 
Panegyric of F. Apoute — Emperor Francis I. at Bologna — Clotilda 
Tambroni — Lady Morgan's account of Mezzofanti — Inaccuracies — 
The Bologna dialect — M. Molbech, - - pp. 219-40. 

CHAPTER VII. (1820-28.) 
Illness — Visit to IMantua, Modena, Pisa, and Leghorn — Solar 
Eclipse — Baron Von Zach — Bohemian — Admiral Smyth — The Gipsy 
language — Blume — Armenian — Georgian — Flemish — Pupils — Cav- 
edoai,Veggetti,Rosellini — Foreigners — Daily duties — Correspondence 
— Death of Plus VII. — Appointment as member of Colleglo del Con- 
sultori — Jacobs' account of him — Personal appearance — Cardinal 
Cappellarl — Translation of Oriental Liturgy — Mezzofanti's disinter- 
estedness — Birmese, - . . . pp. 241-70. 

CHAPTER VIIL (1828-30.) 
Visit of Crown Prince of Prussia — Trial of skill in languages — 
Crown Prince of Sweden — M. Braunerhjelm — Countess of Bles- 
sington — Irish Students — Lady Bellew — Dr. Tholuck — Persian 
couplet — Swedish — Cornish Dialect — Frisian — Abate Fabiani — Let- 
ters — Academy of the Fllopieri, - . - pp. 271-8G. 


CHAPTER IX. (1831.) 
Political parties at Bologna — M. Librl's account of Mezzofanti — 
Hindoo Algebra— Indian literature and history— Indian languages — 
Manner of study — Revolution of Bologna — Delegates to Rome — 
Mezzofanti at Rome — Reception by Gregory XVI. — Visit to the 
Propaganda — Dr. CuUen — Polyglot conversation — Renewed Invi- 
tation to settle at Rome — Consents — Calumnies of revolutionary par- 
ty — Dr. Wordsworth — Mr. Milnes — Removal to Rome, pp. 287-300. 

CHAPTER X. (1831-33.) 
Rome a centre of many languages — Mezzofanti's pretensions 
fully tested — Appointments at Rome — Visit to the Chinese College 
at Naples — History of the College — Study of Chinese — Its difficul- 
ties — Illness — Return to Rome — Polyglot society of Rome — The 
Propaganda — Amusing trials of skill — Gregory XVI. — Library of 
Propaganda rich in rare books on languages — Appointed First- 
keeper of the Vatican Library — Letters,- - pp. 301-17. 

CHAPTER XL (1834.) 
The Welsh language — Dr. Forster — Dr. Baines — Dr. Edwards — Mr. 
l^hys Powell — Flemish— Mgr. Malou— Mgr. Wilde— Canon Aerts — 
Pere van Calven — Pere Legrelle — Dutch — M. Leon — Dr. Wap — 
Mezzofanti's extempore Dutch verses— Bohemian — The poet Frankl — 
Conversations on German and Magyar Poetry — Maltese — Padre Schem- 
bri— Canonico Falzou — Portuguese — Count de Lavradio, pp. 318-37. 

CHAPTER XIL (1834-36.) 
The Vatican Library — Mezzofanti's colleagues — College of St. 
Peter's — Mezzofanti made Rector — His literary friends in Rome — 
Angelo Mai — Accademia della Cattolica Religione — He reads pa- 
pers in this Academy — Gregory XVI.'s kindness — Cardinal Giusti- 
niani — Albani — Pacca — Zurla — Polyglot party at Cardinal Zurla's 
in his honour — Opinions regarding him — Number of his languages 
— Mr. Mazzinghi — Dr. Cox — Dr. Wiseman — Herr Fleck — Greek 
Epigram — Herr Fleck's criticisms — Mezzofanti's Latinity — His En- 
glish — Dr. Baines — Cardinal Wiseman — Mr. Monckton Milnes — 
Mezzofanti's style formed on books — Lady Morgan's opinion of his 
English — Swedish Literature — Professor Carlson — Count Oxen- 
stjerna — Armenian Literature — Mgr, Hurmuz — Padre Angiarakian 
Arabic of Syria — Greek Literature — Mgr. Missir —Romaic — Abate 
Matranga — Polish Literature — Sicilian — The poet Meli, pp. 338-54. 


CHAPTER XIII (-1836-38.) 
Californian students in Propaganda — Californian language — Mez- 
zofanti's success in it — Nigger Dutch of Cura9oa — American Indians 
in Propaganda — Augustine Hamelin — " The Blackbird" — Mezzo- 
fanti's knowledge of Indian languages — Dr. Kip — Algonquin — Chip- 
pewa Delaware — Father Thavenet — His studies in the Propaganda- 
Arabic — Albanese — Mr. Fernando's notice of him — Cingalese — 
East Indian languages — Hindostani — Mahratta — Guzarattee — Dr. 
M'Auliffe — Count Lackersteen — M. Eyoob — Chinese, diflSculty of — 
Chinese students — Testimony of Abate Umpierres — Cardinal Wise, 
man — West African languages — Father Brunner — Angolese — Ori- 
ental languages — Paul Alkushi — " Shalom" — Letter, pp. 353.72. 

CHAPTER XIV, 0838-41.) 

Created Cardinal — The Cardinalate — Its history, duties, emolu- 
ments, congregations, oflBces — Mezzofanti's poverty — Kindness of 
Gregory XVI — Congratulations of his Bolognese friends — The 
Filopieri — Polyglot congratulations of the Propaganda — Friends 
among the Cardinals — His life as Cardinal — Still continues to ac- 
quire new languages —Abyssinian — M. d'Abbadie — His visit to 
Mezzofanti — Basque — Amarinna — Arabic — Ilmorma — Mezzofanti's 
failure — Studies Amarinna — Abyssinian Embassy to Rome — Their 
account of the Cardinal — The Basque language — M. d'Abbadie— 
Prince L.L. Bonaparte— M. Dassance — Strictures on Mezzofanti — 
Mrs. Paget — Baron Glucky de Stenitzer — Guido Gorres — Modesty 
of Mezzofanti — Mr. Kip— Gorres — Cardinal Wiseman — Mezzofanti 
among the pupils of the Propaganda, - - pp. 373-97. 

CHAPTER XV. (1841-43.) 

Author's recollections of Mezzofanti in 1841 — His personal appear- 
ance and manner ; his attractive simplicity — Languages in which the 
author heard him speak — His English conversation — Various opinions 
regarding it — Impressions of the author — Anecdotes — Cardinal 
Wiseman — Rev. John Smyth — Father Kelleher — His knowledge of 
English literature — Mr. Harford — Dr. Cox — Cardinal Wiseman — 
Mr. Grattan — Mr. _^Badeley — Hudibras — Author's own conversation 
with the Cardinal — The Tractarian movement — Mr. Grattan—. 
Baron Bunsen — Author's second visit to Rome — The Polyglot Aca- 
demy of the Propaganda — Playful trial of Mezzofanti's powers by 
the students — His wonderful versatility of language — Analogous 
examples of this faculty — Description of it by visitors — His own il- 
lustration — The Irish language — Mezzofanti's admission regarding 
it— The Etruria Celtica— The Eugubian Tables— Amusing experi. 


ment suggested by Mezzofanti Dr. Murphy — The Gaelic language 

— Mezzofanti's extempore Metrical compositions— Specimens — Ra- 
pidity with which he wrote them Power of accommodating his pro- 
nunciation of Latin to that of the various countries — National inter- 
jectional sounds— Playfulness — Puns, - - pp. 398-431. 

CHAPTER XVI. (1843-49.) 
Death of his nephew Mgr. Minarelli — His sister Teresa — Letter — 
Visitors — Rev. Ingrahara Kip — English conversation— English lite- 
rature American literature — The American Indian languages — 

Scottish dialect— Burns and "Walter Scott — Rev. John Gray — Mez- 
zofanti as a philologer — Baron Bunsen — The Abbe Graume — French 
patois — Spanish — Father Burrueco — Mexican — Peruvian — New Zea- 
land language — Armenian and Turkish — Father Trenz — Russian — 
M. Mouravieff — The Emperor Nicholas — Polish — Klementyna z 
Tanskish Hoflfmanowa — Makrena, Abbess of Minsk — Her history 
—Her account of Mezzofanti — His occupations — House of Catechu- 
mens First communion — Fervorini — The confessional — Death of 

Gregory XVI. — Election of Pius IX. — Mezzofanti's epigrams on the 
occasion — His relations with the new Pope — Father Bresciani's ac- 
count of him — The revolution of 1848 — Its effect on Cardinal Mez. 
zofanti — His illness — Death and funeral, - - pp. 432-56. 

CHAPTER XVIL (Recapitulation.) 
Plan pursued in preparing this Biography — Points of inquiry — 
Number of languages known to Mezzofanti — What is meant by 
knowledge of a language — Popular notion of it — Mezzofanti's num- 
ber of languages progressive — Dr. Minarelli's list of languages known 
by him — Classification of languages according to the deg-rees of his 
knowledge — Languages spoken by him with great perfection — Lan- 
guages spoken less perfectly — languages in which he could initiate 
a conversation — Languages known from books — Dialects — Southern 
and central American languages — Total number known to him in 
various degrees — His speaking of languages not literally faultless, 
but perfect to a degree rare in foreigners— Comparison with other 
linguists — His plan of studying languages — Various systems of study — 
Mezzofanti's method involved much labour — Habit of thinking in 

foreign languages His success a special gift of nature In what this 

consisted — Quickness of perception — Analysis — Memory — Peculi- 
(irity of his memory — His enthusiasm and simplicity — Mezzofanti as 
a philologer, as a critic, a historian, a man of science — Piety and 
charity, liberal and tolerant spirit — Social virtues. pp. 457-493. 

APPENDIX, pp. 495 502. 


Page 35, Line 6, for " yards '" read " feet.'" 

62, last, after " (1704)," supply " who." 

57, 21, for " Bourmouf," read " Boumouf." 

59, 8, for " John and," read " and John." 

76, 2nd last, for " Boehthingk," read " Boehtllngk." 

117, 4th last, (and three other places,) for "marvelous," read " marvellous.' 

119, 2nd last, for " months," read " years." 

121, 2nd last, for " Hall,'" read " Hill." 

281, 22, for "GrUner," read " GrUder." 

283, 17, for " Eabinical," read " Rahbinical." 

312, 10, for " unable," read " able." 

426, 4th last, for "seneeta," read " senecta;" also interchange ; and ! 

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In the Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti I have attempted to 
ascertain, by direct evidence, the exact number of languages 
with whicli that great linguist was acquainted, and the degree 
of his familiarity with each. 

Eminence in any pursuit, however, is necessarily relative. 
We are easily deceived about a man's stature until we have 
seen hira by the side of other men ; nor shall we be able to 
form a just notion of the linguistic accomplishments of Cardinal 
Mezzofanti, or at least to bring them before our minds as a 
practical reality, until we shall have first considered what had 
been effected before him by other men who attained to distinction 
in the same department. 

I have thought it desirable, therefore, to prefix to his Life 
a summary history of the most eminent linguists of ancient 
and modern times. There is no branch of scholarship which 
has left fewer traces in literature, or has received a more scanty 
measure of justice from history. Viewed in the Hght of a 
curious but unpractical pursuit, skill in languages is admired 
for a time, perhaps indeed enjoys an exaggerated popularity ; 
but it passes away hke a nine days' wonder, and seldom finds 
an exact or permanent record. Hence, while the literature of 
every country abounds with memoirs of distinguished poets, 
philosophers, and historians, few, even among professed 
antiquarians, have directed their attention to the history of 
eminent linguists, whether in ancient or in modern times. 
In all the ordinary repositories of curious learning — Pliny, 
Aulus Gellius, and Atheuaeus, among the ancients ; Bayle, 
Gibbon, Feyjoo, Disraeli, and Vulpius, among the moderns — 
this interesting chapter is entirely overlooked ; nor does it 
appear to have engaged the attention even of linguists or 
philologers themselves. 

The following Memoir, therefore, must claim the indulgeiice 
due to a first essay in a new and difficult subject. No one 
can be more sensible than the writer of its many imperfections ; 
— of the probable omission of names which sliould have been 
recorded ; — of the undue prominence of others with inferior 
pretensions; and perhaps of still more serious inaccuracies 
of a different kind. It is only ofl'ered in the absence of 
something better and more complete ; and with the hoj)e of 
directing to what is certainly a curious and interesting subject, 
the attention of others who enjoy more leisure and opportunity 
for its investigation. 

The diversity of languages which prevails among the various 
branches of the human family, has proved, almost equally witli 
their local dispersion, a barrier to that free intercommunion 
which is one of the main instruments of civilization. "The 
confusion of tongues, the first great judgment of God upon 
the ambition of man," says Bacon, in the Introductory Book 
of his " Advancement of Learning,'^ " hath chiefly imbarred 
the open trade and intercourse of learning and knowledge."* 
Perhaps it would be more correct to say that these two great 
impediments to intercourse have mutually assisted each other. 
The divergency of languages seems to keep pace with the dis- 
l)ersion of the population. Adelung lays it down as the result 
of the most careful philological investigations, that where the 
difnculties of intercourse are such as existed among the ancients 
and as still prevail among the less civilized populations, no 
language can maintain itself unchanged over a space of more 
than one hundred and fifty thousand square miles.f 

It might naturally be expected, therefore, that one of the 
earliest t^fforts of the human intellect would have been directed 
towards the removal of this barrier, and that one of the first 
sciences to invite the attention of men would have been the 
knowledge of languages. Yew sciences, nevertheless, were 
more neglected by the ancients. 

It is true that the early literatures of many of the ancient 
nations contain legends on this head which might almost throw the shade the greatest marvels related of Mezzofanti. In 
one of the Chinese stories regarding the youth of Buddha, 

• Works I., p. 42. 

t Mithridates, Vol. II. Einleitung, p. 7. 

translated by Klaproth, it is related that, when he was ten 
years old, he asked his preceptor, Babourenou, to teach him 
all the languages of the earth, seeing that he was to be an 
apostle to all men; and that when Babourenou confessed his 
ignorance of all except the Indian dialects, the child himself 
taught his master " fifty foreign tongues with their respective 
characters/'* A still more marvellous tale is told by one of 
the Rabbinical historians, Rabbi Eliezer, who relates that 
Mordechai, (one of the great heroes of Talmudic legend), was 
acquainted with seventy languages ; and that it was by means 
of this gift he understood the conversation of the two eunuchs 
who were plotting in a foreign tongue the death of the king-t 
Nor is the Koran without its corresponding prodigy. "When 
the Prophet was carried up to Heaven, before the throne 
of the Most High, " God promised that he should have the 
knowledge of all languages.";}: 

But wiien we turn to the genuine records of antiquity, we 
find no ground for the belief that such legends as these 
have even that ordiuary substructure of truth which commoidy 
underlies the fables of mythology. Neither the Sacred 
Narratives, nor those of the early profaue authors, contain 
a single example of remarkable proficiency in languages. 

It is true that in the later days of the Jewish people, 
interpreters were appointed in the synagogues to explain 
the lessons read from the Hebrew Scriptures for the benefit 
of iheir foreign brethren; that in all the courts of the Eastern 
monarchs interpreters were found, through whom they com- 
municated with foreign envoys, or with the motley tribes 
of their own empire; and that professional interpreters 
were at the service of foreigners in the great centres of commerce 
or travel, § who, it may be presumed, were masters of 

• See the whole legend in Hue's Chinese Empire, II., p. 187-8. 

f Auswahl Historischer Stiicke aus Hebraischen Schriftstellern, 
▼on den zweiten Jahrhundert bis auf die Gegenwart. Berlin, 1840. 
p. 10. Tlie book is entitled Pirhi Rabbi Eliezer, " The chapters of 
Rabbi Eliezer." Its date is extremely uncertain. See Moreri Diet. 
Hist. VII., .361. 

X See Prideaux's Life of Mahomet, p. GG. 

§ According to the account of Pliny, Dioscurias, a city of Colchis 
(the present Iskuriah,) was frequented for commercial purposes by 
no less than three hundred different races ; and he adds that a hundred 
and thirty interpreters were eraploved there under the Romans 
(Hist. JS'at. VI., 5. Miller '« Ed. II.', 176.) The Arabian writers, 
Ibn Haukal and ^lusadi, mention seventy-two languages which 
were spoken at Derbent. Strabo speaks of twenty-six m the Eastern 
Caucasus alone. See The Tribes of the Caucasus, p. 14, also p. 32. 

several languages. The philosophers, too, who traversed 
remote countries iu pursuit of wisdom, can hardly be supposed 
to have returned without some acquaintance with the languages 
of the nations among whom they had voyaged. Solon 
and Pythagoras are known to have visited Egypt and the 
East ; the latter also sojourned for a considerable time in 
Italy and the islands; the wanderings of Plato are said 
to have been even more extensive. Nay, in some instances these 
pilgrims of knowledge extended their researches beyond the 
limits of their own ethnographical region. Thus, on the one 
hand, the Scythian sages, Anacharsis and Zamolxis, themselves 
most probably of the Mongol or Tartar tongue, sojourned for 
a long time in countries where the Indo-European family of 
languages alone prevailed ; on the other, the merchants of 
Tyre were in familiar and habitual intercourse with the 
Italo-Pelasgic race ; and the Phcsnician explorers, iu their 
well-known circumnavigation of Africa described by Hero- 
dotus, must have come in contact with still more numerous 
varieties both of race and of tongue. Nevertheless it may 
fairly be doubted whether these or similar opportunities among 
the ancients, resulted in any very remarkable attainments in 
the department of languages. The absence of all record fur- 
nishes a strong presumption to the contrary ; and there is one 
example, that of Herodotus, which would almost be in itself 
conclusive. This acute and industrious explorer devoted many 
years to foreign travel. He visited every city of note in 
Greece and Asia Minor, and every site of the great battles 
between the Greeks and Barbarians. He explored the 
whole line of the route of Xerxes in his disastrous expedition. 
He visited in succession all the chief islands of the Egean, 
as well as those of the western coast of Greece. His land- 
ward wanderings extended far into the interior. He 
reached Babylon, Ecbatana, and Susa, and spent some time 
among the Scythian tribes on the shores of the Black Sea. 
He resided long in Egypt, from which he passed southwards 
as far as Elephantine, eastwards into Arabia, and westwards 
through Lybia, at least as far as Gyrene. And yetDahlmann 
is of opinion that, with all his industry, and all the spirit of 
inquiry which was his great characteristic, Herodotus never 
became acquainted even with the language of Egypt, but 
contented himself with the service of an interpreter."^ 

* Dahlmann, p. 47. It would be presumptuous to differ from so 
ingenious a writer, and so profound a master of the subject which he 
treats ; but I may observe that there are some passages of Herodotus 

In like manner, it would be difficult to shew, either from 
the Cyropsedia, or the Expedition of Cyrus, that Xenophon, 
during his foreign travel, became master of Persian or any 
kindred Eastern tongue. Nor am I aware that there has ever 
been discovered in the writings of Plato any evidence of 
familiarity witli the language of those Eastern philosophers 
from whose science he is believed to have drawn so largely. 

It is strange that the two notable exceptions to this 
barrenness of eminent linguists which characterizes the classic 
times, Mithridates and Cleopatra, should both have been of 
royal rank. The former, the celebrated king of Pontus, 
long one of the most formidable enemies of the Eoman name, 
is alleged to have spoken fluently the languages of all the 
subjects of his empire; an empire so vast, and comprising 
so many difl'erent nationalities as to throw an air of improbability 
over the story. According to Aulus Gellius,* he " was 
thoroughly conversant" (percalkdt) with the languages of 
all the nations (ticcnty'five in number) over which his 
rule extended.t The otlier writers who relate tlie circum- 
stance — Valerius Maximus,J Pliny,§ and Solinus — make 
the number only twenty-two. Some commentators have 
regarded the story as a gross exaggeration ; and others have 
sought to diminish its marvellousness by explaining it of 
different dialects, rather than of distinct languages. But there 
does not appear in the narrative of the original writers any 
reason whether for the doubt or for the restriction. Pliny 
declares that " it is quite certaiii ;" and the matter-of-fact 
tone iu which they all relate it, makes it clear that they wished 
to be understood literally. It was the king's invariable practice, 
they tell us, to communicate with all the subjects of his polyglot 
empire directly and in person, and " never througli an 
interpreter ;" and Gellius roundly affirms that he was able to 

which seem to imply a certain degree at least of acquaintance with 
Egyptian (for instance II. 79, II. 99), and with the ancient language 
of Persia, as IX. 100, &c. It must be admitted, however, that a 
very superficial knowledge of either language would suffice to explain 
these allusions. 

• XVII. 17. 

f This is not Mithridates's only title to distinction. Pei-haps it 
may not be so generally known that he was equally celebrated for 
his powers of eating and drinking ! Athenaeus tells of him that he 
once offered a prize of a talent to the greatest eater in his dominions. 
After a full competition the prize was awarded to Mithridates 
himself. — Athenceus, Deipnusoph, Book X.,p. 415. 

X VIII. 7. 

§ Hist. Nat. VII. 24, and again XXV. 2. 


converse iu each and every one of these tongues " v.itli as 
much correctness as if it were his native dialect." 

The attainments of Cleopatra, although far short of what is 
reported of Mithridates, are nevertheless described by Plutarch^ 
as very extraordinary. He says that she "spoke most languages, 
and that there were but few of the foreign ambassadors to 
whom she gave audience through an interpreter." The 
languages which he specifies are those of the Ethiopians, of 
the Troglodytes (probably a dialect of Coptic), of the Hebrews, 
of the Arabs, the Syrians, the Medes, and the Persians ; but 
he adds that this list does not comprise all the languages 
which this extraordinary woman understood. 

T\ ow the very prominence assigned to these examples, and 
the absence of all allusion to any other which might be supposed 
to approximate to them, may afford a presumption that they 
are almost soUtary. Valerius Maximus, in his well-known 
chapter Be Studio et Induatna, cites the case of Mithridates 
as a very remarkable example "of study and industry." It is 
highly probable therefore, that, if he knew any other eminent 
linguists, he would have added their names. Yet the only 
cases which he instances are those of Cato learning Greek in his 
old age, of Themistocles acquiring Persian during his exile, 
and of Publius mastering all the five dialects of Greece during 
the time of his Prsetorship. In like manner. Aulas Gellius has 
no more notable hnguist to produce, in contrast with Mithri- 
dates, than the old poet Ennius, who used to boast that he had 
three hearts,t because he could speak Greek, Latin, and his 
rude native dialect, Oscan. And Pliny, with all his love of 
parallels, is even more meagre : — he does not recite a single 
name in comparison with that of Mithridates. 

The Homans, especially under the early Eepublic, appear 
to have been singularly indifferent or unsuccessful in cultivating 
laiiguages ; and the bad Greek of the Roman ambassadors to 
Tarentum, for their ridicule of which the Tarentines paid so 
dearly, is almost an average specimen of the accomplishments 
of the earlier Romans as linguists. Nor can this circumstance 
fail to appear strange, when it is remembered over how many 
different races and tongues the wide domain of Rome extended. 
The very multiplicity of languages submitted to her government 

* Life of Antliony. Langhornu's Plutai-ch, v. p. 182. 
t It was probably b}' some such fanciful analogy that Cecrops 
obtained the name 'hi(^mx, because he knew both Greek and Egyptian. 


would seeoi to have imposed upon her public men the necessity 
of familiarizing themselves, even for the discharge of their 
public office, with at least the principal ones among them. 
]3ut, on the contrary, for a long time they steadily pursued 
the policy of imposing, as far as practicable, upon the conquered 
nationalities the Latiu language, at least in public and official 

And, so far as regards the Eastern and Northern languages, 
this exclusion was successfully and permanently enforced at 
Rome. The slave population of the city comprised almost 
every variety of race within the limits of the Empire. The 
very names of the slaves who are introduced in the plays of 
Plautus a!id Terence — Syra, Phoenicium, Afer, Geta, Dorias, 
&c, (which are but their respective gentile appellatives) — 
embrace a very large circle of the languages of Asia, Africa, 
and Northern Europe. And yet, with the exception of a 
single scene in the Peeimlus of Plautus, in which the well- 
known Punic speech of Hanno the Carthaginian is introduced,t 
there is nothing in either of these dramatists from which we 
could infer that any of the manifold languages of the slave 
population of Rome eil'ected an entrance among their haughty 
masters. They were all as completely ignored by the Romans, 
as is the vernacular Celtic of the Irish agricultural servant in 
the midland counties of England. 

But it was not so for Greek. From the Augustan age 
onwards, this polished language began to dispute the mastery 
with Latin, even in Rome itself. 

** Graecia capta ferum cejnt captorem, et artes 
Intulit agresti Latio — " 
applies to the language, even more than to the arts. In the 
days of the Rhetorician, Molon, (Cicero's master in eloquence,) 
Greek had obtained the entree of the Senate. In the time of 
Tiberius, its use was permitted even in forensic pleadings. 
With the emperors who succeeded, J the triumph of Greek 
was still more complete. Prom Plijiy downwards, there is 
hardly an author of eminence in the Roman Empire who did 

* See a long list of examples cited by Bajle, Diet, Histor. I. 943. 
The legislation on the subject, however, was not uniform ; nor is it 
easy to reconcile some parti of it with each other, or to understand 
any general principles on which they can be founded. 

t Paenulus, act v., sc. 1 . 

X With the exception of Tacitus, who claimed to be of the family 
of the great historian, and made a vigorous but unsuccessful effort 
for the revival of declining Latinity. 


not write in that language ;—Pausanias, Dion, Galen, even 
the Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself, with all the traditionary 
Roman associations of his name. 

It was so also with the Christian population and the Christian 
literature of Eome. Almost all the Christian writings of the 
first two centuries are iu Greek. The early Koman liturgy 
was Greek. The population of Rome was in great part a 
Greek-speaking race. A large proportion of the inscriptions in 
the Roman Catacombs are Greek, and some even of the Latin 
ones are engraved in Greek characters. Nay, the early 
Christian churches in Gaul, Vieune, Lyons, and Marseilles, 
and the few remains of their literature which have reached us 
are equally Greek.* 

In a word, during the first two centuries of the Christian 
era, making due allowance for the diff'erence of the periods, 
Greek and Latin held towards each other in Rome the same 
relation which we find between Norman-French and Saxon in 
England after the Conquest ; and we may safely say that, during 
those centuries, a knowledge of both languages was the ordinary 
accomphshment of all educated men, and was shared by 
many of the lowest of the population. 

Beyond this limit, however, we read of no remarkable 
linguists even among the accomplished scholars of the Augustan 
age. No one will doubt that the two Varros may fairly be 
taken as, in this respect, the most favourable specimens of 
the class. Now neither of them seems to have gone further 
than a knowledge of Greek. Out of the four hundred and 
^ ninety books which Marcus Terentius Varro wrote, there is 

not one named which would indicate familiarity with any other 
foreign language. 

The Neo-Platonists of the second and third centuries, whose 
researches in Oriental Philosophy must have brought them into 
contact with some of the Eastern languages, may possibly form 
an exception to this general statement j but, on the whole, in 
the absence of positive and exact information on the subject 
it may not unreasonably be conjectured that, among the 
Christian scliolars of the second, third, and fourth centuries 
we might find a wider range of linguistic attainments than 
among their gentile contemporaries. The critical study of the 
Bible itself involved the necessity of familiarity, not only with 
Greek and Hebrew, but with more than one cognate oriental 
dialect besides. St. Jerome, besides the.classic languages and 

* See Milman's Latin Christianity, I., 28-9. 


his native lUyrian, is known to liave been familiar willi several 
of tlie Eastern tongues ; and it is not improbable that some 
of the earlier commentators and expositors of the Bible may 
be taken as equally favourable specimens of the Christian 
linguists.* Origen's Hexapla is a monument of his scholar- 
ship in Hebrew, and probably in Syriac and Samaritan. 
St. Clement of Alexandria was perhaps even a more 
accompHshed linguist ; for he tells that of the masters under 
whom he studied, one was from Greece, one from Magna 
Grsecia, a third from Ccele-Syria, a fourth from Egypt, a fifth 
an Assyrian, and a sixth a Hebrew.f And St. Gregory 
Nazianzen expressly relates of his friend St. Basil, that, even 
before he came to Athens to commence his rhetorical studies, 
he was already well-versed in many languages.^ 

IVom the death of Constantine, however, the study began 
rapidly to decline, even among ecclesiastics. The dis- 
ruption of the Empire naturally tended to diminish the 
intercourse between East and West, and by consequence the 
interchange of their languages. It would appear, too, as if 
the barbarian conquerors adopted, in favour of their own 
languages, the same policy which the Romans had pursued 
for Latin. Attila is said to have passed a law prohibiting the 
use of the Latin language in his newly conquered kingdom,§ 
and to have taken pains, by importing native teachers, to 
procure the substitution of Gothic in its stead. At all events, 
in whatever way the change was brought about, a knowledge 
of both Greek and Latin, which in the classic times of the 
Empire had been the ordinary accomplishmentof every educated 
man, became uncommon and almost exceptional. Pope 
Gregory the Great, who, bitterly as he has been assailed as an 

* In some congregations, as early as the first and second century, 
there were official interpreters [ E^fciivtvTcti'], whose duty it was to 
translate into the provincial tongues what had been read in the 
church. They resembled the interpreters of the Jewish synagogue. 
See Neander's Kirchen-Geschichte, I. 530. 

t Stromata, I. 276 (Paris, 1641.) 

t Opp. I. 326 (Paris, 1609.) Horn, in Laudem St. Basilii. 

§ See Bayle, Diet. Historique, I. 408. It is curious that the 
victorious Mussulmen at Jerusalem enacted the very opposite. No 
Christiaij, was permitted to speak the sacred language of the Koran. 
See Milman's " Latin Christianity," II. 42, and again III. 223. It 
would be interesting to examine the history of enactments of this 
kind, and their effects upon the languages which they were intended 
to suppress, — the Norman efforts against English, those of the 
English against Celtic, Joseph II's against Magyar, and others of 
the same kind. 


oncmv of lettrrs, must be confessed to luive been the most 
eiiiitient Western scholar of his day, s[)oke Greek \CTy imper- 
fectly; he complains that it wasdifiicult, eveu at Constantinople, 
to find any one who could translate Greek satisfactorily into 
Latin ;* and a still earlier instance is recorded, in which a 
])ope, in other respects a man of undoubted ability, was 
unable to translate the letter of the Greek patriarch, much 
less to communicate with the Greek ambassadors, except 
through an interpreter.! 

More tliau one, indeed, of the early theological controversies 
was embittered through the misunderstandings caused between 
the East and West by mutual ignorance of each other's lan- 
guage. Pelagius succeeded in obtaining a favourable decisiou 
from the Council of Jerusalem in 415, chiefly because, while 
his Western adversary, Orosins, was unable to speak Greek, 
tlie fathers of the Council were ignorant of Latin. The 
protracted controversy on the Three Ciiapters owed much of its 
inveteracy to the ignorance of the WesternsJ of the original 
language of the works whose orthodoxy was iujpugned ; and 
it is well known that the condemnation of the decree of the 
sixth council on the use of sacred images issued by the fathers 
of Erancfort, was based exclusively on a strangely erroneous 
Latin translation of the acts of the council, through which 
translation alone they were known in Germany and Gaul.§ 

The foundation of the Empire of Charlemagne consunmiated 
the separation between the Greek and Latin races and their 
languages. The venerated names of Bede and of Alcuiu in 
the Western Church, and the more questionable celebrity of 
the Patriarch Photius in the Eastern, constitute a passing ex- 
ception. But it need hardly be added that they stand almost 

• Ep. VI. 27. 

t When the Pati-iarch Nestorius wrote to Pope Celestine his 
account of the controversy now known under his name, the latter was 
obhged, before he could reply, to wait till Nestorius's letter had 
been translated into Latin Erat eniin in Latinum sernio vertendus. 
This letter, together with those of Cyril of Alexandria, form part 
of an interesting correspondence which illustrates very strikingly 
the pre-eminence then enjoyed in the Church by the Roman bishop, 
and is found in Hardouin's Concilia, I. 1302. See also Walch's 
Historic der Ketzereien, V. 701. 

t Even Pope Vigilius himself professes his want of familiarity 
with the Greek language. See his celebrated Cuustitutuin in Hard- 
ouin's Coll. Concil 111. eol. 39. 

§ See the original in Labbe's Concilia, VIII. 835. Both the 
original and the translation will be found in Leibnitz's " System of 
Theology," p. 52, note. 


entirely alone; and it will readily bo believed that, amid liie 
Barbarian irruptions from without, and the tierce intestine re- 
volutions, of which Europe was the theatre during the rest of 
the earlier mcdiseval period, even that familiarity with the 
Greek and oriental languages which we have described, entirely 
disappeared in the West. 

The wars of the Crusades, and the reviving intellectual ac- 
tivity in which this and other great events of the second me- 
diaeval period originated, gave a new impulse to the study of 
languages. IVederic II., a remarkable example of the union 
of great intellectual gifts with deep moral perversity, spoke 
fluently six languages, Latin, Greek, Italian, German, Hebrew, 
and even Arabic* The Moorish schools in Spain began to 
be visited by Christian students. In tliis manner Arabic found 
its way into the West; and the intermixture of learned Jews 
in the European kingdoms alibrded similar opportunities for 
the cultivation of Hebrew, which were turned to account by 
many, especially among biblical scholars. On the other hand, 
notwithstanding the contempt for profane learning which 
breathes through the Koran, the Saracen scholars began to 
direct their attention to the learning of other creeds, and the 
languages of other races. Ibn Wasil, wlio came into Italy in 
1250 as ambassador to Manfred, the son of Erederic II., was 
reported to be familiar with the Western tongues. The Span- 
ish iVIoors, too, began sedulously to cultivate Greek. The 
works of Aristotle, of Galen, of l)ioscorides, and many other 
Greek writers, chiefly philosophical, were translated into Ara- 
bic by Averroes, Ibn Djoldjol and Avicenna. And the Jew- 
lish scholars of that age were equally assiduous in the cultiva- 
tion of Greek. The learned llabbi Maimonides, born in Cor- 
dova in the early part of the 12th century, was not only mas- 
ter of many Eastern tongues, but was also thoroughly familiar 
with the Greek language. 

It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that it was 
among the Moors or the Hebrews that the revival of the stu- 
dy of languages first couimenced. Alcuin, in additio)i to the 
modern languages with which liis sojourn in various kingdoms 
must have made him acquainted, was also familiar with Latin, 
Greek, and Hebrew. Hermann, the Dalmatian, the first trans- 
lator of the Koran, was well acquainted with Latin, Greek, 
Hebrew, and Arabic. The celebrated Raymond Lnlly, 
who was a native of Majorca, was able to lecture in Latin 

* See Milman's Latin Christianity, IV. p. 58, and again 3G7. 


Greek, Arabic, and perlia[)s Hebrew ; — an accomplish- 
ment especially wonderful in one who was among the most 
laborious and prolific writers of his age, and who left after 
him, according to some authorities, (though this, no doubt, 
is a great exaggeration), not less than a thousand* works on 
the most -diversified subjects. At the instance of this eminent 
orientalist, the council of Vienne directed that professorships 
should be founded in all the great Universities, for the Hebrew, 
Chaldee, and Arabic languages. t 

An example of, for the period, very remarkable proficiency 
iu modern languages is recorded in the history of the Fourth 
Lateran Council, 1215. Roderigo Ximenes,J Archbishop 
of Toledo in the early part of the thirteenth century, a 
native of Navarre, but a scholar of the University of Paris, 
was one of the representatives of the Spanish Church at that 
Council. A controversy regarding the Primacy of Spain had 
arisen between the Sees of Toledo and Compostella, which was 
referred for adjudication to the bishops there assembled. Xime- 
nes addressed to the council a long Latin oration in defence of 
the claim of Toledo ; and, as many of his auditory, which con- 
sisted both of the clergy and the laity, were ignorant of that 
language, he repeated the same argument in a series of dis- 
.is.\ courses addressed to the natives of each country in succession ; 
to the Romans, Germans, French, Enghsh, Navarrese, and 
Spaniards,^ each in their respective tongues. Thus the number 
of languages in which he spoke was at least seven, and it is 
highly probable that he had others at his disposal, if his audi- 
tory had been of such a nature as to render them necessary. 

The taste for the languages and literature of the East re- 
ceived a further stimulus from the foundation of the Chris- 
tian principalities at Antioch and Jerusalem, from the estab- 
lishment of the Latin Empire at Constantinople, and in gene- 
ral from the long wars in the East, to which the enthusiasm of 
the age attracted the most enterprising spirits of European 

• The titles of nearly two hundred of his works are still preserved. 

t Rohrbacher lEglise, XIX., 569. 

X He is the author of a History of Spain, in nine books ; and besides 
his very remarkable attainments as a linguist, was reputed among the 
most learned scholars of his age. 

§ See the account in Labbe, Collect. Concil. VII. 79. The writer 
observes ; Cum ab apostolorura tempore auditum non sit nee scriptuni 
reperiatur, quemque ad populum eandem concioneni habuisse tot ac 
tarn diversis linguis cuncta exponendo. The fact is also related by 
Feyjoo. Teatro critico, IV. p. 400. An interesting account of this 
remarkable scholar will be found in the Bibliotheca Hispana Veins 
ll.pp. 149-50. 


cliivalr)!. The \nous pilgrimages, too, contributed to the same 
result. Many of the knights or palmers, on their return from 
the East, brought witli them the knowledge, not only of Greek, 
but of more than one of the oriental languages besides. 
The long imprisonments to which, during the holy wars, and 
the Latin campaigns against the Turks, they were often sub- 
jected, supplied another occasion of familiarity with Arabic, 
Syriac, Turkish, or Persian. 

The commercial enterprise of the Western Nations, and 
especially ofthe Venetians and Genoese, was a still more powerful 
instrument of the interchange of languages. Few modern 
voyagers have possessed more of that spirit of travel which is 
the best aid towards the acquisition of foreign tongues, than 
the celebrated Marco Polo. It is hard to suppose that he can 
have returned from his extensive wanderings in Persia, in Tar- 
tary, in the Indian Archipelago, and in China and Tibet, 
without some tincture of their languages. Still less can this be 
supposed of his countryman, Josaphat Barbaro, who sojourned 
for sixteen years among the Tartar tribes.^ It was in the 
commercial settlements of the Venetians in the Levant that 
the profession of interpreters, of which I shall have to speak 
hereafter, and which has since become hereditary in certan 
families, was originated or brought to perfection. t 

It is only, however, from the revival of letters, properly so 
called, that the history of linguistic studies can be truly said to 

The attention of Scholars, in the first instance, was chiefly 
directed towards the classical languages and the languages of 
the Bible. The Greek scholars \\ho were driven to the West 
by the Moslem occupation of Constantinople brought their lan- 
guage, in its best and most attractive form, to the Universities 

• The Family of Barbaro produced many distinguished linguists, 
according to the opportunities of the time. Francesco Barbaro, born 
in 1398, was one of the earliest eminent Greek scholars of Italy. 
Ermolao, the commentator on Aristotle, was said by the wits of his 
time to have been such a purist in Greek, that he did not stop at con- 
sulting the devil when he was at a loss for the precise meaning of a 
word — the much disputed UrtXtj^ux of Aristotle ! — See Bayle's Diet. 
Hist. Art. Barbara I. 473. 

t Venice was long remarkable for her encouragement of skill 
in living languages. It was a necesary qualification for most of 
-her diplomatic appointments ; and, while Latin, in Europe, was still 
the ordinary medium of diplomatic intercourse, we find a Venetian 
ambassador to England, in 1309, Badoer, capable of conversing like 
a native in English, French, and German. — See an interestingpaper, 
" Venetian Dispatches," in the Quarterly Review, vol. xcvi. p. 369. 


of Italy. In the Council of Florence, in 1438, more tlian one 
Italian divine, especially Arabrogio Traversari, was found capa- 
ble of holding discussions with the Greek representatives in 
their native tongue. In like manner, the Jews and Moors, 
who were exiled from Spain by the harsh and impolitic mea- 
sures of Ferdinand and Isabella, deposited through all the 
schools of Europe the seeds of a solid and critical knowledge 
of Hebrew and Arabic and their cognate languages. The 
fruits of their teaching may be discerned at a comparatively 
early period in the biblical studies of the time. Antonio de 
Lebrixa published, in 1481, a grammar of the Latin, Castilian 
and Hebrew languages : and I need only allude to the mature 
and various oriental learning which Cardinal Ximenes found 
ready to his hand, in the very first years of the sixteenth cen- 
tury, for the compilation of the Complutensian Polyglot. Al- 
though some of the scholars whom he engaged, as for 
instance, Demetrius Ducas, were Greeks ; and others, as 
Alfonzo Zamora or Pablo Coronell,* were converted Jews; yet, 
the names of Lopez de Zuniga, Nunez de Guzman, and Ver- 
garat are a sufficient evidence of the success with which the 
co-operation of native scholars was enlisted in the undertak- 

From this period the number of scliolars eminent in the de- 
partment of languages becomes so great, and the history 
of raanyamongthera presents so frequent points of resemblance, 
that it may conduce to the greater distinctness of the narrative 
to classify sej)arately the most distinguished linguists of each 
among the principal nations. 


Although the inquiry must of course commence with the 
East, the cradle of human language, unfortunately the materials 
for this portion of the subject are more meagre and imperfectly 
preserved than any other. 

In the East indeed, the faculty of language aj)pear8, for the 
most part, in a form quite ditfereut from wliat we sliall find 
among the scholars of the West. The Eastern linguists, with a 
few exceptions, have been eminent as mere speake'S of lan- 
guages, rather than scholars even in the loosest sense of the 

* M'Crie's Reformation in Spain, I. p. Gl. See also Hallam's 
Literary History, 1. p. 197. 

j See the Bibliotheca Ilispana, vol. I. pref. p. vii. 

X See Ilefele's Der Cardinal Ximenea : one of the most interesting 
•and learned biograplues with which 1 am acquainted, p. 124. 


As it is in tlic East that ihe office of Dragoman or "inter- 
])reter" first rose to the dignity of a profession, so all the most 
notable Oriental linguists have belonged to that profession. 

A very remarkable specimen of this class occurs in 
the reign of Soliman the Magnificent, and flourished in the 
early part of the sixteenth century. A most interesting account 
is given of him, under his Turkish name of Genus Bey, by 
Thevet, in that curious repertory — \\\sCos7nograj)hieUniverselle* 
He was the son of a poor fisherman, of the Island of Corfu ; 
and while yet a boy, was carried away by pirates and sold as a 
slave at Constantinople. Thence he was carried into Egypt, 
Syria, and other Eastern countries ; and he would also seem to 
liave visited most of the European kingdoms, or at least to have 
erijoyed the opportunity of intercourse with natives of them all. 
His proficiency in the languages both of the East and West, 
drew upon him the notice of the Sultan, who appointed him his 
Fiist Dragoman, with tlie rank of Pasha. Thevet (who would 
seem to have known him personally during his wanderings,) des- 
cribes him in his quaint old French, as " the first man of his day 
for speaking divers sorts of languages, and of the happiest me- 
mory under the Heavens.'^ He adds, that this extraordinary man 
" knew perfectly no fewer than sixteen languages, viz : Greek, 
both ancient and modern, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, 
Moorisli, Tartar, Armenian, Kussian, Hungarian, Polisli, Italian, 
Spanish, German, and French." Genus I3ey, was, of course, a 
renegade ; but, from a circumstance related by Thevet, he ap- 
pears to have retained a reverence for his old faith, though not 
sufficiently strong to be proof against temptation. He was so- 
licited by some bigoted Moslems to remove a bell, which the 
Christians had been permitted to erect in their little church. 
For a time he refused to permit its removal ; but at last he was 
iuducedby a large bribe, to accede to the demand. Thevet 
relates that, in punishment of his sacrilegious weakness, he was 
struck with that loathsome disease which smoteKing Herod, and 
perished miserably in nine days from the date of this inauspi- 
cious act. 

In Naima's " Annals of the Turkish Empire," another 
renegade, a Hungarian by birth, is mentioned, who spoke 
fourteen languages, and who, in consequence of this accomplish- 
ment, was employed during a siege to carry a message through 
the lines of the blockading armv.t 

• Vol. II., p. 788. 

t Naiiiia's Annals of the Turkish Empire, translated by M, Fra- 
zer, fur the Oriental Translation Society. For this fact I am indebt- 
ed to the kindness of Mr. "Watts, of the British Museum, but I am 
unable to refer to the passage. 


A still more marvellous example of tlie gift of languages is 
mentioned by Duret, in his Treaor des Langues (p. 964) — thatof 
Jonadab, a Jew of Morocco, who lived about the same period. 
He was sold as a slave by the Moors, and lived for twenty-six 
years in captivity in different parts of the world. With more 
constancy to his creed, however, than the Corfu christian, he 
withstood every attempt to undermine his faith or to compel 
its abjuration; and, from the obduracy of his resistance, received 
from his masters the opprobrious name Alhanar, " the serpent" 
or " viper." Duret says that Jonadab spoke and wrote twenty- 
eight different languages. He does not specify their names, 
however, nor have I been able to find any other allusion to 
the man. 

It would be interesting, if materials could be found for the 
inquiry, to pursue this extremely curious subject through the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and especially in the 
military and commercial establishments of the Venetians in 
the Morea and the islands. The race of Dragomans has never 
ceased to flourish in the Levant. M. Antoine d'Abbadie 
informed me that there are many families in which this office, 
and sometimes the consular appointment for which it is an in- 
dispensable qualification, have been hereditary for the last two 
or three centuries; and that it is very common to find among 
them men and women who, sufficiently for all the ordinary- 
purposes of conversation, speak Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Ital- 
ian, Spanish, English, German, and Trench, with little or no 
accent. This accomplishment is not confined to one single na- 
tion. Mr. Burton, in his " Pilgrimage to Medinah and 
Meccah," mentions an Afghan who"spoke five or six languages.""^ 
He speaks of another, a Koord settled at Medinah, who 
" spoke five languages in perfection." The traveller, heassures 
us, "may hear theCairene donkey-boys shouting three or four 
European dialects with an accent as good as his own ;" and 
he " has frequently known Armenians (to whom, among all 
the Easterns, he assigns the first place as linguists) speak, 
besides their mother tongue, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and 
Ilindostanee, and at the same time display an equal aptitude 
for the Occidental languages."t 

But of all the Eastern linguists of the present day the most 
notable seem to be the ciceroni who take charge of the pilgrims 
at Mecca, many of whom speak fluently every one of the 
numerous languages which prevail over the vast region of the 
Moslem. Mr. Burton fell in at Mecca with a one-eyed Hadji, 

• Pilgrimage to El Medinah, II. p. 368. 
t Ibid. I., p. 179. 


who spoke fluently and with good accent Turkish, Persian, 
Hindostani, Pushtu, Armenian, English, French, and Italian."^ 
In the "Turkish Annals" of Naima, already cited, the learned 
Yankuli Mohammed Effendi, a contemporary of Sultan 
Murad Khan, is described as " a perfect linguist."t Many 
similar instances might, witliout much difficulty, be collected ; 
nor can it be doubted that, among the numerous gene- 
rations which have thus flourished and passed away in the 
East, there may have been rivals for Genus Bey, or even for 
" the Serpent" himself. But unhappily tlieir fame has been 
local and transitory. They were admired during their brief 
day of success, but are long since forgotten ; nor is it possible 
any longer to recover a trace of their history. They are 

Carent quia vate sacro.J 
It would be a great injustice, however, to represent this as 
the universal character of the Eastern linguists. On the con- 
trary, it has only needed intercourse with the scholars of the 
"West in order to draw out what appears to be the very 
remarkable aptitude of the native Orientals for the scientific 
study of languages. Thus the learned Portuguese Jew, Eabbi 
Menasseh Ben Israel (1604--1657), was not only a thorough 
master of the Oriental languages, but was able to write with 
ease and exactness several of the languages of the West, and 
published almost indifferently in Hebrew, Latin, Spanish, and 
English, § I allude more particularly, however, to those bodies 
of Eastern Christians, which, from their community of creed 
with the Roman Church, have, for several centuries, possessed 
ecclesiastical establishments in Rome and other cities 
of Europe. 

* Burton's Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah. III., 368. 

t Annals of the Turkish Empire, p. 45. 

X A melancholy instance of the capriciousness of this sort of re- 
putation, and of the unhappiness by which, in common with many 
other gifts, it is often accompanied, is recorded in the Paris journals 
of the early part of this year. A man apparently about fifty years 
old, named Tinconi, a native of Constantinople, was found dead at 
his lodgings in the Rue des Vieux Augustins, having perished, as it 
afterwards appeared, of hunger. This ill-fated man was possessed 
of an ample fortune, and had held high diplomatic appointments ; 
and, besides being well-versed in ancient and modern literature, he 
spoke not fewer than ten languages, and knew several others ! Yet 
almost the only record of his varied accomplishments is that which 
also tells the story of his melancholy end ! 

§ See his life by Pococke, prefixed to the translation uf his work 
De Termino Vitce. 1G99. 


The Syrians liad been remarkable, even from the classic 
times,* for the patient industry with which tliey devoted them- 
selves to the labour of translation from foreign languages into 
their own. Many of the modern Syrians, however, have 
deserved the still higher fame of original scholarship. 

The Maronite community of Syrian Christians has jjroduced 
several scholars of unquestioned eminence. Abraham Echellensis 
was one of the chief assistants of Le Jay, at Paris, in the 
preparation of his Polyglot. His services in a somewhat 
similar capacity at Rome are familiar to all Oriental scholars. 
But it is to the name of Assemani that the Maronite body 
owes most of its reputation. Por a time, indeed, literature 
would seem to have been almost an inheritance in the family 
of Assemani. It has contributed to the catalogue of Oriental 
scholars no less than five of its members — Joseph Simon, who 
died in 1768 ; his nephews, Stephen Evodius and Joseph 
Lewis; Joseph Aloysius, who died at Rome in 1782; and 
Simon, who died at Padua in 1821. The first of them is the 
well-known editor of the works of St. Ephrem, and author of 
the great repertory of Oriental ecclesiastical erudition, the 
Bibliotheca Orientalis. 

The Greeks, with greater resources, and under circumstances 
more favourable, are less distinguished as linguists. John 
Matthew Caryophilos, a native of Corfu, who was archbishop 
of Iconium and resided at Rome in the early part of tlie 
seventeenth century, was a learned Orientalist, and, besides 
several literary works of higher pretension, published some 
elementary books on the Chaldee, Syriac, and Coptic languages. 
But he lios few imitators among his countrymen. Leo Allatius 
(Allazzi), although a profound scholar, and familiar with every 
department of the literature of the West, whether sacred or 
profane,t can hardly be considered a linguist in the ordinary 

* See Dr. Paul De Lagarde's learned dissertation, "De Geoponi- 
con Ver.-iione Syriaca" (p. 3, Leipsig, 1835). This dissertation is an 
account of a hitherto unknown Syriac version of the " Scriptores 
Rei liu-sticae" which Dr. De Lagarde discovered among the Syriac 
MSS. of the British Museum. He has also transcribed from the 
same collection many similar remains of Syriac literature, partly 
sacred, partly profane, which he purposes to publish at intervals. 
Some of the former especially, as referring to the Ante-Nicene period, 
are, like those already published by Mr. Cureton, of great 
interest to students of Christian antiquity, although the same draw- 
back — duubt as to their age and authoi'ship — must affect the doctrinal 
value of them all. 

t This laborious and prolific writer, whose works fill nearly 20 


sense of the word. The same may be said of th<^ many Greek 
students, as, for instance, Metaxa, Meletius Syrius, and others, 
who, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, repaired 
to the universities of Italy, France, and even EngUuid.* It 
can hardly be doubted, of course, that many of them acquired 
a certain familiarity with the languages of the countries in 
which they sojourned, but no traces of this knowledge appear to 
be now discoverable. By far the most notable of them, Cyrillus 
Lucaris,the well-known Calvinistic Patriarch of Constantinople, 
spoke and wrote fluently Arabic, Greek, Latin, and Italian; 
but, if his latinity be a fair sample of his skill in the other 
languages, his place as a linguist must be held low indeed.f 
It should be added, however, that as polyglot speakers, the 
Greeks have long enjoyed a considerable reputation. The 
celebrated Panagiotes NicusiusJ (better known by his Italianized 
name Panagiotti) obtained, despite all the prejudices of race, 
the post of Pirst Dragoman of the Porte, about the middle of 

volumes, is said to have used the same pen for no less than forty 
years, and to have been thrown almost into despair upon its acciden- 
tal destruction at the end of that period. 

• Some of these visited the English universities. Of one among 
the number, named Metrophanes Critopulus, who was sent by Cy- 
rillus Lucaris to be indoctrinated in Anglican Theology, and who 
lived at Oxford at the charge of archbishop Abbott, a very amusing 
account is given by the disappointed prelate in a letter quoted by 
Neale (History of Alexandria, II., 413-5.) He turned out " an un- 
worthy fellow," far from ingenuity or any grateful respect," a "rogue 
and beggar," and in other ways disappointed the care bestowed on 

+ One specimen may suffice, which is furnished by Mr. Neale : 
" Collavi (I have collated) sua notata cum textu Bellarmini." Neale, 
II., p. 402. The Easterns seldom seem at home in the languages 
of Europe ; Italian, and still more French orthography, is their 
great puzzle. I have seen specimens of Oriental Italian which, for 
orthography, might rival " Jeames's " English, or the French of 
Augustus the Strong. 

X Panagiotes was a native of Scio, and was known in his later life 
under the sobriquet of "the Green Horse," in allusion to a local 
proverb, that " it is easier to find a green horse than a wise man iu 
Scio." The appellation was the highest tribute that could be rendered 
to the prudence and ability of Panagiotes ; but it is also a curious 
confirmation of the evil repute, as regards honesty, in which the 
islanders of the Egean were held from the earliest times. The reader 
will probably remember the satirical couplet of Phocylides about the 
honesty of the Lerians, which Porson applied, in a well-known Eng- 
lish parody, to the Greek scholarship of Herrmann. 

A^g«a< Kuxoi b>t ftiv oi¥ » 


the seventeenth century ; and, from his time forward, the office 
was commonly held by a Greek, until the separation of Greece 
from the Ottoman Empire. 

Mr. Burton's observation (hat no natives of the East seem 
to possess the faculty of language in a higher degree than the 
Armenians, is confirmed by the experience of all othertravellers ; 
and the commercial activity which has long distinguished 
them, and has led to their establishing themselves in almost 
all the great European centres of commerce, has tended very 
much to develope this national characteristic. A far higher 
spirit of enterprise has led to the foundation of many religious 
establishments of the Armenians in diH'erent parts of Europe, 
which have rendered invaluable services, not only to their own 
native language and literature, but to Oriental studies generally. 
Among these the fathers of the celebrated Mechitarist order 
have earned for themselves, by their manifold contributions to 
sacred literature, the title of the Benedictines of the East. 
The publications of this learned order (especially at their prin- 
cipal press in the convent of San Tjazzaro, Venice,) are too well 
known to require any particular notice. Most of their 
pubHcations regard historical or theological subjects ; but 
many also are on the subject of language,* as grammars, 
dictionaries, and philological treatises. A little series of 
versions, the Prayers of St. Nerses in twenty-four languages, 
printed at their press, is one of the mosl beautiful specimens 
of polyglot typography with which I am acquainted. Among 
the scholars of the order the names of Somal, Khedeston, 
Ingigean, Avedichian, Minaos, and, above all, of the two 
Auchers, are the most prominent. One of the latter is best 
known lo English readers as the friend of Byron, his instructor 
in Armenian, and his partner in the compilation of an Anglo- 
Armenian grammar. The fathers of this order generally, 
however, both in Vienna and in Italy, have long enjoyed the 
reputation of being excellent linguists. Visitors of the 
Armenian convent of St. Lazzaro at Venice cannot fail to be 
struck by this accomplishment among its inmates. Besides 

• An elaborate account of them will be found in Neumann's 
Versuch einer Geschichte der Anneitischen Literatur. Leipzig, 1836. 
On the exceeding importance of the Armenian language for the 
general study of the entire Indo-Germanic family, see the extremely 
learned essay, ' Urgescliichie der Armenier, ein Philologischer 
Versuch. (Berlin, 1834.) It is published anonymously, but is be- 
lieved to Lie from the pen of the distinguished Orientalist named in 
page 22. 


the ordinary Oriental languages, most of them speak Italian* 
French, and often German. I have heard from M. Antoine 
d'Abbadie that, in 1837, Dr. Pascal Aucher spoke no les3 
than twelve languages. 


The most prominent among the nations of the West at the 
period immediately succeeding the Kevival of Letters, is of 
course Italy. 

The first in order, dating from this period, among the 
linguists of Italy, is also in many respects the most remarkable 
of them all ; — at least as illustrating the possibility of uniting 
in a single individual the most diversified intellectual attain- 
ments, each in the highest degree of perfection ; — the celebrated 
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, son of the Duke John Francis 
of that name.* He was born in 1463, and from his childhood 
was regarded as one of the wonders of his age. Before he 
had completed his tenth year, he delivered lectures in civil and 
canon law, not less remarkable for eloquence than for learning. 
While yet a boy he was familiar with all the principal Greek 
and Latin classics, lie next applied himself to Hebrew ; and, 
while he was engaged in that study, a large collection of 
cabalistic manuscripts, which were represented to him as 
genuine works of Fisdras, turned his attention to the other 
Eastern languages, and especially the Ciialdee, the Rabbinical 
dialect of Hebrew, and the Arabic. Unfortunately, tlie strange 
and fantastic learning with which he was thus thrown into 
contact gave a tinge to his mind, which appears to haveafl'ected 
all his later studies. His progress in languages, however, 
cannot but be regarded as prodigious, when we consider the 
poverty of the linguistic resources of his age. At the age of 
eighteen he had the reputation of knowing no fewer than 
twenty-two languages, a considerable number of which he 
spoke with fluency." And while he thus successfully cultivated 
the department of languages, he was, at the same time, an 
extraordinary proficient in all the other knowledge of his day. 
His memory was so wonderful as to be reckoned among the 

• I do not think it necessary to mention (though he is a little 
earlier) Felix of Ragusa, the principal librarian, or rather book 
collector, of Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary. He is said to 
have known, besides Greek and Latin, the Chaldee, Arabic, and 
Syriac languages. 


marvellous examples of that gift which are enuiuerated by the 
writers upon this faculty of the human mind. Cancellieri states 
that he was able, after a single reading, not only to recite the 
contents of any book which was offered to him, but to repeat 
the very words of the author, and even in an inverted order.* 
In 1486 he maintained a thesis in Rome, Beomni Re Scibili. 
Much of the learning which it displayed was certainly of a very 
idle and puerile character ; much of it, too, was the merest 
pedantry ; but nevertheless it is undeniable that the nine 
liundred propositions of which it consisted, comprised every 
department of knowledge cultivated at that period. And it 
is impossible to doubt that, if Pico's career had been prolonged 
to the usual tern of human life, his reputation would have 
equalled that of the greatest scholars, whether of the ancient or 
the contemporary world. He was cut off, however, at the 
early age of thirty-one. 

It is not unnatural to suppose that this circumstance, as 
well as the rank of Pico, and the singular precocity of his 
talents, may have led to a false or exaggerated estimate of his 
acquirements. But, even allowing every reasonable deduction 
on this score, his claim must be freely admitted to the character 
of one of the greatest wonders of his own or any other age, 
whether he be considered as a linguist or as a general scholar. 

Marvellous, however, as is the reputation of Pico della 
Mirandola, perhaps the science of language owes more to a 
less brilliant but more practical scholar of the same period, 
Teseo Ambrosio, of the family of the Albonesi. He was born 
at Pavia, in 1469. His admirers have not failed to chronicle 
such precocious indications of genius as his composing Italian, 
Latin, and even Greek poetry, before he was fifteen ; but he 
himself confesses that his proficiency in these studies dates from 
a considerably later time. He entered the order of Canons 
Regular of St. Augustine, and fixed his residence at Rome, 
where he devoted himself with great assiduity to Oriental 
studies, and acquired such a reputation, that when, in the 
Lateran Council of 1512, the united Ethiopic and Maronite 
Christians solicited the privilege of using their own pecuhar 
liturgies while they maintained the communion of the Roman 
church, it was to liim the task of examining those liturgies, 
and of ascertaining how far their teaching was in accordance 
with the doctrines of the Church, was entrusted by the Holy 
See. Teseo assures us that, at the time when he received this 

* Sugli Uomini di gran Memoria, p. 27- 


commission, lie knew little more than the elements of Hebrew, 
Chaldee, and Arabic. He set to work with the assistance of 
a native Syrian (who, however, was entirely ignorant of Latin); 
and, carrying on their communication by mutual instruction, 
he was soon able liot only to master the difficulties of these 
languages, but to set on foot what may be regarded as (at 
least conjointly vrith the Complutensian Polyglot) one of the 
earliest systematic schemes for the promotion of Oriental studies. 
He had types cast expressly for his projects ; and he himself 
prepared the Chaldee Psalter for the press, and re])aired to his 
native city of Pavia for the purpose of having it printed. He 
died (1539) before it was completed;* but his types were 
turned to account by other scholars. It was with Teseo's 
types that William Postel printed two out of the five Pater 
Nosters contained in his collection — the Chaldee and theArme- 
nian.t And to him we owe a still greater boon — the first 
regular attempt at a Polyglot Grammar; which, however 
imperfectly, comprises the elements of Chaldee, Syriac, Arme- 
nian, and ten other languages. 

The scholarship of Auibrogio was derived almost entirely 
from books. llis countryman, Antonio Pigafetta, enjoyed 
among his contemporaries a different reputation, that of con- 
siderable skill as a speaker of foreign languages, acquired 
during his extensive and protracted wanderings. Pigafetta was 
born at "Vicenz:i, towards the end of the fifteenth century. 
In the exj)e{litiou undertaken, under the patronage of Charles 
v., for the conquest of the Moluccas, by the celebrated Fer- 
nando Magellan, the first circumnavigator of the globe, one of 
the literary staff was Pigafetta, who acted as historiographer 
of the expedition, and to whose narrative we are indebted for 
all the particulars of it, which have been preserved. 

Marzari describes Pigafetta as a prodigy of learning; and, 
although this has been questioned by later inquirers, ;J: there is co 
reason to doubt his acquirements in modern languages at 

* The history of this MS, is a strange one. In the sack of Pavia 
by the French under Lautrec, it was carried oif among the j)lunder. 
Teseo was in despair at tlie loss, and was returning to Rome with a 
sad heart. At Ferrara, he chanced to see a quantity of papers at a 
charcoal burner's, just on the point of being consigned to the furnace. 
What was his delight to find his precious Psalter among them! He 
began the printing of it at Ferrara without delay, but did not live to 
see its completion. 

t Adelung's Mithridates, I., 646. See also Biogr. Universelle, 
II., p. 25. 

t Biograph. Univ. XV. 231). 


least, and particularly his skill and success in obtaining infor- 
mation as to tlie languages of the countries which he visited. 
It is to him* we are indebted for the first vocabularies of the 
language of the Philippine and Molucca islands, the merit of 
which is recognized even by recent philologers.f 

It may be permitted to class with the linguists of Italy, a 
Corsican scholar of the same period, Augustine, bishop of 
Nebia. It is difficult to pronounce definitively as to the ex- 
tent of his attainments ; but his skill in the ancient languages, 
at least, is sufficiently attested by the polyglot Bible which he 
published, (containing the Hebrew, Greek, Chaldee, and Arabic 
texts,) of which Sixtus of Sienna speaks in the highest terms ; 
and if we could receive without qualification the statement of the 
same writer, we should conclude that Augustine's familiarity 
with modern languages was even more extensive. Sixtus of 
Sienna describes him as " deeply versed in the languages of 
all the nations which are scattered over the face of the earth." 
Towards the close of the sixteenth century the study of 
languages in Italy assumed that practical character in relation 
to the actual exigencies of missionary life by which it has ever 
since been mainly characterized in that country. The Oriental 
press established at Florence by the Cardinal Ferdinand de 
Medici, under the superintendence of the great orientalist 
Giambattisa Kaimondi ;J the opening at Rome of the Col- 
lege I)e Propaganda Fide ; the foundation of the College of 
San Pancrazio, for the Carmelite Oriental Missions in 1662; 
the opening of similar Oriental schools in the Dominican, the 
Franciscan, Augustinian, and other orders, for the training of 
candidates for their respective n)issions in the East ; and above 
all, the constant intercourse with the Eastern missions which 
began to be maintained, gave an impulse to Oriental studies, 

• There is another Pigafetta fFelippo), some years the junior of 
Antonio, who was also a very extensive traveller, having visited 
Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Croatia, Hungary, the Ukraine, and the 
northern kingdoms. He was sent into Persia on a diplonuitic mis- 
sion by Sixtus V. But 1 have not been able to find any record of 
his skill in languages. 

t Thevet's Thresor des Langues, p. 964. 

X Raimondi had spent many years in the East, and -was acquainted 
with most of the Oriental languages, living and dead. He projected 
a polyglot bible whicli should contain the Arabic, Syriac, Persic, 
Ethiopia, Armenian, and Coptic versions, accompanied by the Gram- 
mars and Dictionaries of these languages. But the death of Gre- 
gory XIII., on whose patronage he mainly relied for the execution 
of his project, put a stop to the undertaking. 


the more powerful and the more peruianeiit, becnuse it was 
founded on motives of rehgion ; and although we do not meet 
among the missionary linguists that marvellous variety of lan- 
gunges which excites our wonder, yet we find in them abun- 
dant evidences of a solid and practical i-cholarship, whose 
fruits, if less attractive, are more useful and more enduring. 
Nearly all the linguists of Italy from the close of the sixteenth 
century, appears to have been either actually missionaries, or 
connected with the colleges of the foreign mission. 

Thus, Antonio Giggei, one of the " Oblates of Mary," 
taught Persian in a missionary college, at Milan, and, 
at a later period, taught Arabic in Florence. Giggei's 
Thesaurus Lxngua Arahica* is still much esteemed. He wrote 
besides, a Grammar of Chaldee and of Rabbinical Hebrew, 
which is still preserved in manuscript in the Ambrosian Lib- 
rary at Milan ; and his translation of a Rabbinical com- 
mentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, published at Milan in 
1620, is an evidence of his familiarity, not only with Biblical 
Hebrew, but with the language of the Talmud in all its 
successive phases. 

In like manner, Clemente Galani, the eminent Armenian 
schohir, spent no less than twelve years as a missionary in 
Armenia. On his return to Rome, in 1650, he was such a 
proficient in the language that he was able, not only to write 
both in Armenian and Latin his well-known work on the 
conformity of the creeds of the Armenian and Roman 
Churches,t but also to deliver theological lectures to the Ar- 
menian students in Rome in their native iongue.| 

Toramaso Ubicini was a Franciscan missionary in the Le- 
vant. § He was born at Novara, and entered young into the 
order of Friar-minors. He was named guardian of the Fran- 
ciscan convent in Jerusalem ; and, during a residence of many 
years, made himself master, in addition to Hebrew and Chaldee, 

* A copy of this work is found in the Catalogue of Cardinal Mez- 
zofanti's Library, by Signor Bonifazi. It is in 4 vols., fol., Milan, 

\ Conciliatio Ecclesiie Armenae cum Romana, ex ipsis Armenorum 
Patrum et Doctorum Testimoniis. 2 vols fol., Romse 1658 — It is 
in Bonifazi's Catalogue of the Mezzofanti Library, p. 20. 

\ Feller's Diet. Biog. art. Galani, 

§ The learned Jesuit, Father Gianibattista Ferrari, author of the 
Nomenclator Syrns, is an exception to the general rule. He does not 
appear to have been a member of any of the Eastern missions. 
Angelo Canini, the eminent Syriac scholar, though born in Italy, 
belongs rather to the French school. 


of tlie Syriac, Arabic, and Coptic languiiges. The latter years 
of his Hfe were spent in the convent of San Pietro in Montorio 
at Rome; where, besides publishing several works upon 
these languages, he taught them to the students of his order. 
His great work, Thesaunis Arahico-Syi o-hattnus was not pub- 
lished till J 636, several years after his death.* 

Ludovico Maracci, best known to English readers by the 
copious use to which Gibbon has turned his translation and 
annotations of the Koran, was one of the missionary " Clerks of 
the Mother of God." He was born at Lucca in 161?., and first 
obtained notice by the share which he had in the Roman edition 
of the Arabic Bible, published in 1671 He taught Arabic 
for many years with great distinction in the University of the 
Sapienza at Rome. But his best celebrity is due to his critical 
edition of the Koran, and the admirable translation which ac- 
companies it.t From this repertory of Arabic learning. Sale 
has borrowed, almost without acknowledgment, or rather with 
occasional depreciatory allusions, all that is most valuable in 
his translation and notes. 

One of Maracci's pupils, John Baptist Podesta, (born at 
Fazana early in the 17th century), is another exception to the 
general rule. Having perfected his Oriental studies in Con- 
stantinople, he was appointed Oriental Secretary of the Em- 
peror Leopold at Vienna, and attained considerable reputation 
as Professor of Arabic in that university. He published a 
Grammar of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish ; which, however, 
was severely, and, indeed, ferociously, criticised by his contem- 
porary and rival, Meniuski. 

But Podesta's contemporary, Paolo Piroraalli, was trained 
in the school of the Mission. He was a native of Calabria, 
and became a member of the Dominican order. Piromalli 
was for many years attached to the Mission of his order in 
Armenia, and was eminently successful in reconciling the se- 
parated Armenians to the Roman Church , having even the 
happiness to number among his converts tlie schismatical 
patriarch himself. From Armenia, Piromalli passed into the 
Missions of Georgia and Persia. He afterwards went, in the 
capacity of Apostolic Nuncio, to Poland, with a comniission of 
much importance to the Emperor from tlie Pope, Urban VIII. 

• Wadding assigns his death to the year 1638; but it is clear from 
the preface of the Thesaurus that he was dead several years before 
its publication, which was in 1036. 

t Alcorani Textus Universus. 2 vols, fol., Padua, 1698. 


In the course of one of his voyages he was made prisoner bv 
the Algerine corsairs, and carried as a slave to Tunis ; but he 
was soon after redeemed and called to Rome, whence, after he 
had been entrusted with the revision of an Armenian Bible, 
he was sent back to the East, as Bishop of Nachkivan in 
1655. He remained in this charge for nine years, and was 
called home as Bishop of Bisiguano, where he died in 1G67. 
Piromalli published two dictionaries, Persian and Armenian, 
and several other works upon these languages.* 

The Augustinian order in Italy, also, produced a linguist, 
not inferior in solidity, and certainly superior in range of 
attainments, to any of those hitherto enumerated — Antonio 
Agostino Giorgi.t He was born at San Mauro, near Eimini, 
in 1711, and entered the Augustinian order at Bologna ; but 
Benedict XIV., who, during his occupancy of the see of 
Bologna, had become acquainted with his merit, invited him 
to Rome after his elevation to the Papacy, and appointed him 
to a professorship in the Sapienza. Father Giorgi occupied 
this post with much distinction for twenty-two years, till his 
death, in 1797. His acquirements as a linguist were more 
various than those of any of the scholar? hitherto named. 
Besides modern languages, he knew not only Greek, Hebrew, 
Chaldee, Samaritan, and Syriac, but also Coptic and (what 
was at that period a mucli more rare accomplishment) Tibetan. 
On the last named language he compiled an elementary work 
for the use of missionaries, which, although it is not free from 
inaccuracies, deserves, nevertheless, the highest praise as a 
first essay in that till then untried language. 

Simon De Magistris, one of the priests of the Oratory, 
(born at Ferrara in 1728) was for many years at the head of the 
Congregation of the Oriental Liturgies in Rome. He was not 
only deeply versed in the written languages of the East, but 
spoke the greater number of them with the same ease and 
Muency as his native Italian. J 

Of the learned Dominican, Finetti, I am unable to offer 
any particulars. His treatise " On the Hebrew and its cognate 
Languages" is a sufficient evidence of his ability as an Orien- 
talist ; but ic contains no indication of anything beyond the 
learning which is acquired from books. 

• Biogr. Uni. XV. 263, (Brussels Ed.) 

■j- He must not be confounded with a German Orientalist, 
Christopher Sigismund Georgi, who lived about the same time. 
t Biographie Universelle, Vol. XXVI, p. 128. 


The same may be said of the Oratoriaii, Valperga de 
Galuso. He was born at Turin in 1737, but lived chiefly in 
the convents of iiis order at Naples, Malta, and Rome. In 
addition, iiowever, to his accomplishments as au Orientalist, 
Padre de Galuso had the reputation of being one of the most 
skilful mathematicians of his day. He died in 1815. 

Our information regarding the two De Rossi^s, Ignazio, 
author of the Elymologicum Copticum, and Giambernardo, of 
Parma, is more detailed and more satisfactory. 

Ignazio de Rossi was born at Viterbo in 1740, and entered 
(he Jesuit society at a very early age. In the schools of 
Macerata, Spoleto, and Florence, he was employed in teaching 
the Humanities and Rhetoric until the suppression of the order 
in 1773, ; after which event he repaired to Rome, and received 
an appointment as professor of Hebrew in the University, 
which he held for thirty years, rejoining his brethren, however, 
at tiie first moment of their restoration under Pius VII. 

As a general scholar. Father De Rossi was one of the first 
men of his day. His memory may be ranked among the most 
prodigious of which any record has been preserved. On one 
occasion, during the villeggiatura at Frascati, it was tried by 
a test in some respects the most wonderful which has ever been 
applied in such cases. A line being selected at pleasure from 
any part of any one of the four great Italian classics, Dante, 
Petrarca, Tasso, and Ariosto, De Rossi immediately repeated 
the hundred lines which followed next in order after that which 
had been chosen ; and, on his companions expressing their 
surprise at this extraordinary feat (which he repeated several 
times), he placed the climax to their amazement by reciting 
in the reverse order the hundred lines immediately preceding 
any line taken at random from any one of the above-named 
poets.* His reputation as an Orientalist was founded chiefly 
upon his familiarity with Hebrew and tlie cognate languages. 
But he w as also a profound Coptic scholar ; and it is a subject 
of regret to many students of tiiat language that his numerous 
MSS. connected therewith have been suffered to remain so long 
uni)ublished. He died in 18^4. 

Giovanni Bernardo de Rossi was a linguist of wider range. 

• For tliis interesting anecdote of Father Ignazio de Rossi, I am 
indebted to Cardinal Wiseman, who learned it from the companions 
of the good old father upon the occasion. His Eminence added, 
that it was done as a mere amusement, and without the least effort 
or the remotest idea of prejiaration. 


He was horn at Castel INuovo, in Piedmont, in 174?., and in 
his youth was destined for the ecclesiastical state. He began 
his collegiate studies at Turin, and manifested very early that 
taste for Oriental literature which distinguished his after life. 
AVithin six months after he coraraenced his Hebrew studies, 
he produced a long Hebrew poem. In addition to the Biblical 
Hebrew, he was soon master of the Rabbinical language, of 
Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic. He learned besides, by private 
study, most of the languages of modern Europe; — his plan 
being lo draw up in each a compendious grammar for his own 
use. In this way he prepared grammars of the German, 
English, and Russian languages. In 1769, he obtained an 
appointment in the Royal Museum at Turin ; but, being in- 
vited at the same time to undertake the much more congenial 
office of Professor of Oriental Languages in the new University 
of Parma, he gladly transferred himself to that city, where he 
continued to reside, as Professor of Oriental Literature, for 
more than forty years. During the latter half of this period, 
De Rossi maintained a frequent correspondence with Mezzofanti, 
upon the subject of their common studies.^ Erom the terms 
in which such a scholar as Mezzofanti speaks of De Rossi, 
and the deference with which he appeals to his judgment, we 
may infer what his acquirements must have been. On occasion 
of the marriage of the Infante of Parma, Charles Emanuel, he 
published a polyglot epit.halamium,t — a Collection of Hymeneal 
Odes in various languages —which even still is regarded as the 
most extraordinary of that class of com positions J ever produced 
by a single individual. it does not belong to my present 
plan lo allude to the works of De Rossi, or to offer any 
estimate of his learning ; but without entering into any such 
particulars, or attempting to specify the languages with which 
he was acquainted, it may safely be said that no Italian linguist 

* Through the kindness of the Cavaliere Pezzana, Royal Librarian 
and Privy Councillor of Parma, I have been fortunate enough to 
obtain copies of some of Mezzofanti's letters to De Rossi, which will 
be found in their chronological order hereafter. 

t It is a magnificent folio, entitled "Epithalamia Exoticis Linguis 
Reddita ;" one of the most curious productions of the celebrated 
press of Bodoni. Parma, 1775. 

X The Panglossia in honour of Peiresc was the work of many 
hands, and cannot fairly be compared with the Epithalamia of 
De Rossi. I have never seen a copy of the latter, nor does De Rossi 
himself, in his modest autobiography, (^Memorie Storiche, Parma, 
1807, p. 19), enumerate the languages which it contained. 


from tlie days of Pico della Mirandola can be compared with 
him, either in the solidity or the extent of his linguistic at- 
tainments. De Rossi died in 1831.* 

Tlie fame of the linguists of Italy during the nineteenth 
century has been so completely eclipsed by that of Mezzofanti, 
that I shall not venture upon any enumeration of them, though 
the list would embrace such names as Rossellini, Luzatto, 
Molza, Laureani, &c. There are few of whom it can be 
said with so much truth as of Mezzofanti : — 

PrcBgravat artes 
Infra se positas. 


The catalogue of Spanish linguists opens with a name hardly 
less marvellous than that which I have placed at the head of 
the linguists of modern Italy — that of Eernando di Cordova ; — 
one of those universal geniuses, whom Nature, in the prodigal 
exercise of her creative powers, occasionally produces, as if to 
display their extent and versatility. He was born early in 
the fifteenth century, and was hardly less precocious than his 
Italian rival, Pico della Mirandola. At ten years of age he 
had completed his courses of grammar and rhetoric. He could 
recite three or four pages of the Orations of Cicero after a single 
reading. Before he attained his twenty-fifth year, he was in- 
stalled Doctor in all the faculties ; and he is said by Eeyjoo to 
have been thorough master (supo con toda la perfeccion) of 
Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic. Eeyjoo add?, 
that he knew, besides, all the principal European languages. t 
He could repeat the entire Bible from memory. He was pro- 
foundly versed in theology, in civil and canon law, in mathema- 
tics, and in medicine. He had at his perfect command all the 
works of St. Thomas, of Scotus, of Alexander of Hales, of 
Galen, Avicenna, and the otlier hghts of the age in every de- 
partment of science.J Like the Admirable Crichton, too, he 
was one of the most accomplished gentlemen and most distin- 
guished cavahers of his time. He could play on every known 
variety of instrument ; he sang exquisitely ; he was a most 

♦ The ingenious mechanician, Prince Raimondo di Sansevero, of 
Naples, had some name as a linguist. He is said to have known 
Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, and several modern lan- 
guages. But his knowledge was very superficial. 

f Theatro Critico, IV., p. 401, Art. Glorias de Enpum. 

j Bibliotheca Uispaua, Vol. IV,, p. 75. 


{graceful dancer; an expert swordsman ; and a bold and skilful 
rider; and he was master of one particular art of fence by 
which he was able to defeat all his adversaries, by springing 
upon them at a single bound of twenty-three or twenty-four 
yards ! In a word, to adopt the enthusiastic panegyric of the 
old chronicler on whose simple narrative these statements rest, 
" if you could live a hundred years without eating or drink- 
ing, and were to give the whole time to study, you could not 
learn all that this young man knew."^ The occasion to which 
this writer, quoting Monstrelet's Chronicle,t refers was the 
Royal Fete at Paris in 1445 ; so that Fernando must have 
been born about 1425. Of his later history but little is known. 
He was sent as ambassador to JR,ome in 1469, and died in 

A Portuguese of the same period, Pedro de Covilham, is 
mentioned by Damian a Goes in his curious book, De Ethio- 
jpum Moribus in terras which, if we could take them literally, 
should entitle him to a place among the linguists. Dur- 
ing the reign of John II. of Portugal (1481-95) (3ovilham, 
who had already distinguished himself as an explorer under 
Alfonzo v., was sent, in company with Alfonzo de Payva, in 
search of the kingdom of Prester John, which the traditional 
notions of the time placed in Abyssinia. Payva died upon 
the expedition. Covilham, after visiting India, the Persian 
Gulf, and exploring both the coasts of the Red Sea, at length 
reached Abyssinia, where he was received with much distinc- 
tion by the King. He married in the country, and obtained 
large possessions ; but, in accordance with a law of AbyssiniaJ: 
similar to that which still exists in Japan, prohibiting any 
one who may have once settled in the country ever again to 
leave it, he was compelled to adopt Abyssinia as a second 

•Thus amusingly "Englished" in Wanley's "Wonders of the 
Little World," p. 285 :_ 

" A young man have I seen. 
At twenty years so skilled, 
That every art he knew, and all 
In all degrees excelled ! 
Whatever yet was writ, 
He vaunted to pronounce 
(Like a young Antichrist) if he 
Did read the same but once." 
I P. 457. The work was printed in the same volume with Peter 
Martyr's De Rebus Oceanicis. Cologne, 1574. 
t Bruce's Travels, III, 134. 


lionip. When, therefore, he was recalled by John II., 
the King of Abyssinia refused to relinquish him, pleading 
" that he was skilled in almost all the languages of men " * and 
tliat he had made to him, as his own adopted subject, large 
grants of land and other possessions. Covilham, after a resi- 
dence of tliirty-three years, was still alive in 1525, when the 
embassy under Alvarez de Lima reached Abyssinia. 

Very early in the sixteenth century, I find a notice of a 
Spanish convert from Judaism, called inLatin " Libertas Corai- 
netus" [Libertas being, in all probability, but the translation 
of his Hebrew patronymic,) whose acquirements are more 
precisely defined. He was born at Cominedo, towards the 
close of the fifteenth century, and renounced his creed about 
1525. His fellow-convert Galatinus, an Italian Jew, and 
himself no mean linguist, describes Libertas in his work " De 
Arcanis Catholica Veritatis," as not only deeply versed in Holy 
Writ, but master of fourteen languages.f The Biographical 
Dictionaries and other books of reference are quite silent re- 
garding him. 

The nameof Benedict Arias Montanus, editor of the so-called 
" King of Spain's Polyglot Bible, " is better known to Biblical 
students. He was born at FrexenalJ in Estremadura in 1527' 
and studied in the university of Alcala, then in the first fresh- 
ness of the reputation which it owed to the magnificence of 
the great Cardinal Ximeues. Montanus entered the order of St. 
James, and after accompanying the Bishop of Segovia to the 
Council of Trent, where he appeared with great distinction, 
returned to the Hermitage of Nuestra Seuora de losAngel.^s 
near Aracena, with the intention of devoting himself entirely 
to study and prayer. From this retreat, however, he was drawn 
by Philip 11., who employed him to edit a new Polyglot 
Bible on a more comprehensive plan than the Complutensian 
Polyglot. On the completion of this task, Philip sought to 
reward the learned editor by naming him to a bishopric ; but 

• Duret refers for some notice of Covilham, to the rare work of 
Alvarez, De Histuria Ethiopian. In the hope of discovering some- 
thing further regarding this remarkable and little-known linguist, 
1 endeavoured to consult that author ; but I have not been able to 
find a copy, It is not in the British Museum. 

t Galatinus de Arcanis Cath. Veritatis Libri XII. (Frankfort 
1572), B. III. c. e, p. 120. 

X There is considerable difference of opinion as to his birth-place. 
But Nicholas Antonio, in the Bibliotheca Hispana, savs it was Frex- 
enal Vol, III. p. 207. 


Montanus had humility and self-denial enough to decline the 
honour, and died an humble chaplain, in 1598. The estimate 
formed by his contemporaries of Montanus's attainments in lan- 
guages falls little short of the marvellous. Le Mire describes 
him as omnium fere gentium Unguis et Uteris raro exemplo 
excultus ; but we may more safely take his own modest state- 
ment in the preface of his Polyglot, that he knew ten lan- 

The celebrated Father Martin Del Rio, best known perhaps 
to English readers, since Sir Walter Scott's pleasant sketch, by 
his vast work on Demonology, was also a very distinguished hn- 
guist. Del Rio, although of Spanish parentage, was born at Ant- 
werp in May 1551. His first university studies were made at 
Paris; but he received the Doctor's degree at Salamanca, and has 
merited a place in Baillet's Enfans Celebres, by publishing an 
edition of Solinus, with a learned commentary, before he was 
twenty years old.f Del Rio's talents and reputation opened for 
him a splendid career ; but he abandoned all his offices and all 
his prospects of preferment, in order to enter the Society of 
the Jesuits at Yalladolid in 15S0. According to Feyjoo, J Del 
Rio knew ten languages; andBaillet would appear to imply 
even more, when he says that he was master of at least that 
number. Del Rio died at Louvain in 1608. 

One of Del Rio's most distinguished contemporaries, the 
celebrated dramatic poet. Lope de Vega, although his celebri- 
ty rests upon a very different foundation, was also a very res- 
pectable linguist, so far, at least, as regards the modern 
languages. The extraordinary fecundity of this author, espe- 
cially when we consider his extremely chequered and busy career 
as a secretary, a soldier, and eventually a priest, would seem to 
preclude the possibility of his having applied himself to any 
other pursuit than that of dramatic literature. The mere 
physical labour of committing to paper (putting composi- 
tion out of view altogether) his fifteen hundred versified plays,§ 

* Enfans Celebres, p. 198. Baillet says it was an edition of Sene- 
ca's Tragedies ; but this is a mistake. The In Seneca Tragedias Ad- 
versaria did not appear till 1574. 

t Teatro, IV. 401. 

X Feyjoo IV. p. 401. " Seguramente podemos creers in alguna 
rebaxa." The Bibliotheca Hispana enumerates twelve languages, 
Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, French, Flemish, 
Spanish, Italian, and English. I. p. 207. 

§ This is, strange as it may seem, the lowest computation, and 
rests on Lope de Vega's own testimony, written in 1630, five years 
before his death. Speaking of the number of his dramatic fictions, ha 
says to his friend. 

Mil y quinientos fabulas admira. 


three hundrerl interludes and sacred dramas''^, ten epic poems, 
and eight prose novels, besides an infinity of essays, prefaces, 
dedications, and other miscellaneous pieces, would appear more 
than enough to occupy the very busiest human life. Yet not- 
withstanding all this prodigious labour. Lope de Vega con- 
trived to find time for the acquisition of Greek, Latin, Italian, 
Portuguese, French, and probably English ! Well might Cer- 
vantes call him " a Prodigy of isature!" 

Although the missionaries of Spain and Portugal are, as a 
body, less distinguished iu the department of languages than 
those of Italy, yet there are some among them not inferior to 
the most eminent of their Italian brethren. The great Coptic 
and Abyssinian scholar, Antonio Fernandez, was a Portuguese 
Jesuit. He was born at Lisbon in 1566, and entered the 
Jesuit society as a member of the Portuguese province of the 
order. After a long preparatory training, he was sent, in 
1602-, to Goo, the great centre of the missionary activity of 
Portugal. His ultimate destination, however, was Abyssinia, 
which country he reached in 1604, in the disguise of an 
Armenian. He resided in Abyssinia for nearly thirty years, 
and was charged with a mission to the Pope Paul III. and 
Philip IV. of Spain, from the king, who, under the influence 
of the missionaries, had embraced the Catholic religion. 
Fernandez set out with some native companions in 1615 ; but 
they were all made prisoners at Alaba, and narrowly escaped 
being put to death ; nor was he released in the end, except 
on condition of relinquishing this intended mission, and re- 
turning to Abyssinia. On the death of the king, who had 
so long protected them, the whole body of Catholic missionaries 
were expelled from Abyssinia by the new monarch in 1632 ; 
and Feriiandez returned, after a most chequered and eventful 
career, to Goa, where he died, ten years later, iu 1642. Of 
his acquirements in the Western languages, I am unable to 
discover any particulars ; but he was thoroughly versed in 
Armenian, Coptic, and Amharic or Abyssinian, in both of which 
last named languages he has left several ritual and ascetic 
works for the use of the missionaries and native children. 

By other authors the number is made much greater. Accord- 
ing to some, as his friend, Montalvan, he wrote eighteen hundred 
plays ; and Bouterwek, in his History of Spanish Literature, puts it 
down at the enormous estimate of tioo thousand. ^^ Spanish Litera- 
ture,"!, p. 361. 

' Montalvan says four hundred. The Bibliotheca Hispana says 
(vol. iv., p. 75,y'elgkteen hundred plays, and above four hundred sacred 
dramas. " 


The Spanish and Portuguese missionaries in America, too, 
(especinlly those of the Jesuit order) rendered good service to 
the study of the numerous native languages of both continents.* 
Most of the modern learning on the subject is derived from 
their treatises, chiefly manuscript, preserved by the Society. 

ISor were the other orders less efficient. Padre Josef 
Carabantes, a Capuchin of the province of Aragon, (born in 
1648) wrote a most valuable practical treatise for the use of 
missionaries, which was long a text book in their hands. 

One of the Portuguese missionaries in Abyssinia, Father 
Pedro Paez, who succeeded Fernandez, and whose memory 
still lingers among the native traditions of the people,t not 
only became thorough master of the popular dialects of tiie 
various races of the Valley of the Nile, but attained a profici- 
ency in Gheez, the learned language of Abyssinia, not equalled 
even by the natives themselves. J A Franciscan missionary 
at Constantinople about the same time, mentioned by Cyril Lu- 
caris, is described by him as "acquainted with manylanguages;"§ 
but I have not been able to discover his name. 

By far the most eminent linguist of the Peninsula, how- 
ever, is the learned Jesuit, Father Lorenzo Hervas-y-Pandura. 
He was born in 1735, of a noble family, at Horcajo, in la 
Mancha. Having entered the Jesuit society, he taught philo- 
sopiiy for some years in Madrid, and afterwards in a convent 
in Murcia; but at length, happily for the interests of science 
as well as of religion, he embraced a missionary career, and re- 
mained attached to the Jesuit mission of America, until 1767. 
On the suppression of the order, Father Hervas settled at 
Cesena, and devoted himself to his early philosophical 
studies, which, however, he ultimately, in a great measure, 
relinquished in order to apply himself to literature and especially 
to philology. When the members of the society were per- 
mitted to re-establish themselves in Spain, Hervas went to 
Catalonia ; but he was obliged to return to Italy, and set- 
tled at Rome, where he was named by Pius VII. keeper of 

* A long list of grammars, vocabularies, dictionaries, catechisms, 
&c., in more than forty-five different languages, compiled by tlie 
Spanish missionaries, is given in the Bibliotheca Hispana, vol. IV. 
pp. 577-79. 

•f M. d'Abbadie assures me that Father Paez is still spoken of as 
" Ma aiim Petros" by the professors of Gondar and Bageniidir. 

X Neale's History of the Patriarchate of Alexandria (London, . 
1837) II. 405. 

§ Letter to M. Le Leu de Wilhem, quoted by Neale, II. 402. 


the Vatican Library. In this honourable charge he remained till 
his death in 1809. 

Father Hervas may with truth be pronounced one of the 
most meritorious scholars of modern times. His works are 
exceedingly numerous; and, beside his favourite pursuit, philo- 
logy, embrace almost every other conceivable subject, theology, 
mathematics, history, general and local, palaeography ; not to 
speak of an extensive collection of works connected with the 
order, which he edited, and a translation of Bercastel's History 
of the Church, (with a continuation), executed, if not by him- 
self, at least under his superintendence. Besides all the 
stupendous labour imphed in these diversified undertakings, 
Father Hervas has the still further merit of having devoted 
himself to the subject of the instruction of the deaf-mute, for 
whose use he devised a little series of publications, and pub- 
lished a very valuable essay on the principles to be followed 
in their instruction.* 

Our only present concern, however, is with his philological 
and linguistic publications, especially in so far as they evince 
a knowledge of languages. They form part of a great work 
in twenty-one 4to. volumes, entitled Idea dell' Universo ; and 
were printed at intervals, at Cesena, in Italian, from which 
language they were translated into Spanish by his friends and 
associates, and republished in Spain. It will only be necessary 
to particularize one or two of them — the Saggio Prattico 
delle Lingue, which consists of a collection of the Lord's Prayer 
in three hundred and seven languages, together with other 
specimens of twenty-two additional languages, in which the 
author was unable to obtain a version of the Lord's Prayer, 
all illustrated by grammatical analyses and annotations ; and the 
Calalogo delle Lingue conosciute, e Notizia delle loro Affinita 
e Biversita.f In the compilation of these, and his other 
collections, it is true, Hervas had the advantage, not alone of 
his own extensive travel, and of his own laborious research, 
but, also of the aid of his brethren ; and this in an Order 
which numbered among its members, men to whose adventu- 
rous spirit every corner of the world had been familiar : — 

* Biographie Universelle, IX. 301. 

t Of the latter work I have never seen the Italian original. I 
know it only from the Spanish Catalogo de las Lenguas de las naciones 
eonocidas, y numeraciun, division, y classes deestas, segun la Diver sidad 
de sus idiomas y dialectos. 6 vols 4to. Madrid, 1800-3. 


" In Greenland's icy mountains, 
On India's coral strand, 
Where Afric's sunny fountains 
Roll down their golden sand." 

But he, himself, compiled grammars of no less than eighteen 
of the languages of America ; which, with the hberality of 
true science, he freely communicated to William von Hum- 
boldt for publication in the Mithridates of Adelung. He 
was a most refined classical scholar and a profound Orientalist. 
He was perfectly familiar, besides, with almost all the Euro- 
pean languages; and, wide as is the range of tongues which 
his published works embrace, his critical and grammatical notes 
and observarions, even upon the most obscure and least known 
of the languages which they contain, altiiough in many cases 
they have of course all the imperfections of a first essay, ex- 
hibit, even in their occasional errors, a vigorous and original 

The name of Father Hervas-y-Pandura is a fitting close to 
the distinguished line of linguistic " Glorias de Espana." 


The University of Paris did not enter into the study of 
languages so early, or with so much zeal as the rival schools 
of Spain and Italy. 

The firsf^ great name in this department which we meet in 
the history of French letters, is that of the celebrated Eabbi- 
nical scholar, William Postel. This extraordinary man was 
born at Dolerie in 1510. Having lost both his parents at a 
very early age, he was left entirely dependent upon his own' 
exertions for support; and, with that indomitable energy 
which often accompanies the love of knowledge, he began, 
from his very boyhood, a systematic course of self-denial, by 
which he hoped to realize the means of prosecuting the studies 
for which he had conceived an early predilection. Having 
scraped together, in the laborious and irksome occupation of a 
school-master, what he regarded as a sufficient sum for his 
modest wants, he repaired to Paris ; but he had scarcely 

* Anthony Rodolph Chevalier, a Hebraist of .=ioine eminence, 
born in Normandy in 1507, three years before Postel, has perhaps 
some claim to be mentioned before him, inasmuch as several of his 
versions are inserted in Walton's Polyglot ; but his history has 
hardly any interest. 



reached that city, when he was robbed by some designing 
sharpers, of the fruits of all his years of self-denial ; and a 
long illness into which he was thrown by the chagrin and pri- 
vation which ensued, reduced him to the last extremity. 
Even still, however, his spirit was unbroken. He went to 
Eeauce, where, by working as a daily labourer, he earned the 
means of returning to Paris as a poor scholar. Presenting 
himself at the College of Saint Barbara, he obtained a place as 
a servant, with permission to attend the lectures ; and having iu 
some way got possession of a Hebrew grammar, he contrived, 
in his stolen half hours of leisure, to master the language 
so thoroughly, that in a short time his preceptors found them- 
selves outstripped by their singular dependent. 

His reputation as an Oriental scholar spread rapidly. When 
La Poret^s memorable embassy to the Sultan was being orga- 
nized by Prancis I., the king was recommended to entrust to 
Postel a literary mission, somewhat similar to that undertaken 
during the reign of Louis Philippe, at the instance of M. de 
Villemain, one of the objects of which was to collect Greek and 
Oriental MSS. It was on his return from this expedition, (in 
which he visled Constantinople, Greece, Asia Minor, and 
part of Syria,) that Postel met Teseo Ambrosio at Venice, 
and published what may be said to have been the first syste- 
matic attempt as yet made to bring together materials for 
the philosophical investigation of the science of language* — 
being a collection of the alphabets of twelve languages, with 
a shght account of each among the number.* He was 
soon after appointed Professor of Mathematics, and also 
of Oriental Languages, in the College de Prance; but the 
wild and visionary character of his mind appears to have been 
quite unsuited to any settled pursuit. He had conceived the 
idea that he was divinely called to the mission of uniting all 
Christians into one community, the head of which he recog- 
nized m Prancis I. of France, whom he maintained to be the 
lineal descendant of Sem, the eldest of the sons of Noah. 
Under the notion that this was his pre-ordained vocation, 
he refused to accompany La Poret on a second mission to the 
East, although he was pressed to do so by the king himself, 
and a sum of four thousand crowns was placed at his disposal 
for the, purchase of manuscripts. He offered himself, in 
preference, to the newly founded society of the Jesuits; but his 
unsuitablcness for that state soon became so apparent, 
that St. Ignatius of Loyola, then superior of the society, refused 

• See Adelung's Mitliridates, I. 646. Postel published in the same 
year, the first grammar of the Arabic language ever printed. Faris 1538. 


to receive liiin. After many wanderings in France, Italy, and 
Germany, and an imprisonment in Venice, (where his fanaticism 
reached its greatest height,) he undertook a second expedition 
to the East, in 1549, whence lie returned in 1551, with a large 
number of valuable MSS. obtained through the French 
ambassador, D'Aramont, but wilder and more visionary than 
ever. He resumed his lectures in the College des Lombards^ 
now the property of the Irish College in Paris. The crowds 
who flocked to hear him were so great, that they were obhged 
to assemble in the court, where he addressed them from one 
of the windows. His subsequent career was a strange alter- 
nation of successes and embroilments. The Emperor Ferdinand 
invited him to Vienna, as Professor of Mathematics. While 
there, he assisted Widmandstadt in the preparation of his 
Syriac New Testament. He left Vienna,however, after a short 
residence, and betook himself to Italy, in 1551 or 1555. He 
was put into prison in Rome, but liberated in 1557. In 1562 
he returned to Paris. The extravagancies of his conduct and 
his teaching led to his being placed under a kind of honourable 
surveillance, in 1564, in the monastery of St. Martin des 
Champs, near Paris. Yetsoiiiterestingwas his conversation that 
crowds of the most distinguished of all orders continued to visit 
him in this retreat till his death in 15S1. Postersattainments 
in languages living or dead, were undoubtedly most extensive. 
Not reckoning the modern languages, which he may be presumed 
to have known, his Introduciion exhibits a certain familiarity 
withnot less than twelve languages, chiefly eastern ; and he is said 
to have been able to converse in most of the living languages 
known in his lime. Duret states, as a matter notorious to all 
the learned, that he "knew, understood, and spoke fifteen lan- 
guages ;"* and it was his own favourite boast, that he could 
traverse the entire world without once caUing in the aid of an 
interpreter. In addition to his labours as a linguist, Postel 
was a most prolific writer. Fifty- seven of his works are enu- 
merated by his biographer. 

It is to this learned but eccentric scholar that we owe the 
idea of the well-known polyglot collections of the Lord's Prayer. 
These compilations as carried out by later collectors, have 
rendered such service to philology, that, although many 
of their authors were little more than mere compilers, and 
have but slender claims to be considered as linguists, 
in the higher sense of the word, it would be unpardonable to 
pass them over without notice in a Memoir like the present. 

TItresor de V Histoire de toulcs les Langues dc cet Univers. Cologne, 
613, p. 9G4. 




Towards the close of the fourteenth century, a Hungarian 
soldier named John Schildberger^ while serving in a campaign 
against the Turks in Hungary, was made prisoner by the 
enemy ; and on his return home, after a captivity of thirty-two 
years, published (in 1428) an account of his adventures. He 
appended to his travels, as a specimen of the languages of the 
countries in which he had sojourned, the Lord's Prayer in 
Armenian, and also in the Tartar tongue. This, however, was 
a mere traveller's curiosity : but Postel's publication (Paris, 
1558) is more scientific. It contains specimens of the characters 
of twelve different languages, in five of which — Chaldee , He- 
brew, Arabic, Greek, and Armeniau,the Pater Noster is print- 
ed both in Roman characters and in those of the several 
languages. This infant essay of Postel was followed, ten years 
after, by the collection of Theodore Bibliander, (the classicized 
form of the German name Buchnann^ which contains four- 
teen dfferent Pater Nosters. Conrad Gesner, in 1555, increased 
the number to twenty-two, to which Angelo Rocea, an Augus- 
tinian Bishop, added three more (one of them Chinese) in 
1591. Jerome Megiser, in 1592, extended the catalogue to 
forty. John Baptist Gramaye, a professor in Louvain, made 
a still more considerable stride in advance. He was taken 
prisoner by the Algerine corsairs, in the beginning of the 
next century, and after his return to Europe, collected no 
fewer than a hundred different versions of the Pater Noster, 
which he pubHshed in 1623. But his work seems to have 
attracted little notice ; for more than forty years later, (1668) 
a collection made by Bishop Wilkins, the learned linguist, to 
whom I shall hereafter return, contains no more than fifty. 

In all these, however, the only object appears to have been 
to collect as large a number of languages as possible, without 
any attention to critical arrangement. But, in the latter part 
of the same century, the collection of Andrew Miiller (which 
comprises eighty-three Pater Nosters) exhibits a considerable 
advance in this particular. Men began, too, to arrange and 
classify the various families. Francis Junius (Van der Yonghe) 
published the Lord's Prayer in nineteen different languages of 
the German family ; and Nicholas Witsen devoted himself to 
the languages of Northern Asia — the great Siberian family, — 
in eleven of which he published the Lord's Prayer in 1692. 
This improvement in scientific arrangement, however, was not 
universal ; for although the great collection of John Chamber- 
lay ne and David Wilkins, printed at Amsterdam in 1715, 
contains the Lord's Prayer in a hundred and fifty-two Ian- 


guages, and that of Christian Frederic Gesner — the well-known 
Orientalischer und Occidentalischer Sprachneister (Leipzic 
17-48) — in two hundred, they are both equally compiled upon 
the old plan, and have little value except as mere specimens 
of the various languages which they contain.* 

It is not so witli a collection already described, which was 
published near the close of the same century, by a learned 
Spanish Jesuit, Don Lorenzo Hervas y Pandura. It is but 
one of that vast variety of philological works from the same 
prolific pen which, as I have stated, appeared, year after year, 
in Cesena, originally in Italian, though they were all afterwards 
pubhshed in a Spanish translation, in the author's native 
country. Father Ilervas's collection, it will be remembered, 
contains the Lord's Prayer in no less than three hundred and 
seven languages, besides hymns and other prayers in twenty- 
two additional dialects, in which the author was not able to 
find the Pater Noster. 

Almost at the very same time with this important publica- 
tion of Hervas, a more extensive philological work made its 
appearance in the extreme north, under the patronage and 
indeed the direct inspiration, of the Empress Catherine II. of 
Russia. The plau of this compilation was more comprehensive 
than that of the collections of the Lord's Prayer. It consisted 
of a Vocabulary of two hundred and seventy-three familiar and 
ordinary words, in part selected by the Empress herself, and 
drawn up in her own hand. This Vocabulary, which is very 
judiciously chosen, is translated into two hundred and one 
languages. The compilation of this vast comparative catalo- 
gue of words was entrusted to the celebrated philcloger, 
Pallas, assisted by all the eminent scholars of the northern 
capital; among whom the most efficient seems to have been 
Bakmeister, the Librarian of the Imperial Academy of St. 
Petersburg. The opportunities afforded by the patronage of 
a sovereign who held at her disposition the services of the 

* Adelung, in the appendix of the first volume of his IMithridates, 
has enumerated sereral other Pater Nosters, Thevet, Vulcanius (the 
latinized form of iSme^),Merula,Duret,Mauer Waser, Reuter,Witzen, 
Bartsch, Bergmann, and others. None of these collections, how- 
ever, possesses any special interest, as bearing on the present inquiry, 
nor does it appear that any of the authors was particularly 
eminent as a speaker of languages ; unless we are to presume that 
Thevet, Duret, Gramaye, and Witzen, may, in their long travel or 
sojourn in foreign countries, have acquired the languages of the . , 
nations among whom they lived. Of the last three names I shall say ^** Ir'*^ 
a few words hereafter. ' 


functionaries of a vast, and, in the literal sense of the word, a 
])olyglot empire like Kussia, were turned to the best account. 
Languages entirely beyond the reach of private research, were 
unlocked at her command ; and the rude and hitherto almost 
unnamed dialects of Siberia, of iVorthern Asia, of the Hali- 
eutian islanders, and the nomadic tribes of the Arctic shores, 
find a place in this monster vocabulary, beside the more 
polislied tongues of Europe and the East. jN'evertheless, the 
Vocabulary of Pallas (probably from the circumstance of its 
being printed altogether in the Russian character)* is but 
little familiar to our philologers, and is chiefly known from 
the valuable materials which it supplied to Adelung and his 
colleagues in the compilation of the well-known Mithridates. 
The Mithridates of Adelung closes this long series of philo- 
l/Us logical collections ; but although in its general plan, it is only 

' an expansion of the original idea of the first simple traveller 

who presented to his countrymen, as specimens of the langua- 
ges of the countries which he had visited, versions in each 
language of the Prayer which is most familiar to every Chris- 
tian, yet it is not only far more extensive in its range than 
any of its predecessors, but also infinitely more philoso- 
phical in its method. There can be no doubt that the selec- 
tion of a ])rayerso idiomatical, and so constrained in its form 
as the Lord's Prayer, was far from judicious. As a specimen 
of the structure of the various languages, the choice of it was 
singularly infelicitous ; and the utter disregard of the princi- 

* A portion of the edition contains a Latin preface, explanatory 
of the plan and contents ; but the majority of the copies have this 
preface in Russian ; and, in all, the character employed throughout 
the body of the work is Russian. This character, however, may be 
mastered with so little difficulty, that, practically, its adoption can 
hardly be said to interfere materially with the usefulness of the 
work ; and the use of the Russian character had many advantages 
over the Roman,in accurately representing the various sounds, especi- 
ally those of the northern languages. 

Au alphabetical digest (4 vols. 4to. 1790-1) of all the words con- 
tained in the Vocabulary (arranged in the order of the alphabet 
without reference to language) was compiled, a ?evf years later, by 
Theodor Jankiewitsch de Miriewo, by which it may be seen at once 
to what language each word belongs. But this digest is described as 
unscientific in its plan and execution ; and it was commonly 
believed that the Empress was so dissatisfied with it, that the work 
was suppressed and is now extremely rare ; but I have been inform- 
ed by Mr. Watts of the British Museum, that copies of it are now 
not unfrequently offered for sale. A copy has been for some years 
in the British Museum. 


pies of criticism (and in truth of everything beyond tlie mere 
multiplication of specimens), wiiich marks all the early 
collections, is an additional aggravation of its original defect. 
But it is not so in the Milhridates of Adelung. It retains 
the Lord's Prayer, it is true, like the rest, as the si)ecimen 
(although not the oidy one) of eacii language ; but it aban- 
dons the unscientific arrangement of the older collections, the 
languages being distributed into groups according to their 
ethnographical affinities. The versions, too, are much more 
carefully made ; they are accompanied by notes and critical 
illustrations ; and in general, each language or dialect, with 
the literature bearing upon it, is minutely and elaborately 
described. In a word, the Miihridates, although, as might 
be expected, still falling far short of perfection, is a strictly 
philosophical contribution to the study of ethnography ; and 
has formed the basis, as well as the text, of the researches of 
all the masters in the modern schools of comparative philology.* 
To return, however, to the personal history of linguists, 
from which we have been called aside by the mention of the 
work of Postel. 

A celebrity as a linguist equally distinguished, and even 
more unamiable, than Postel's, is that of his countryman and 
contemporary, the younger of the two Scaligers. 

Joseph Justus Scaliger was born at Ageu in 1544^ and 
made his school studies at Bordeaux, where he was only re- 
markable for his exceeding dulness, having spent three years 
in a fruitless, though painfully laborious, attempt to master 
the first rudiments of the Latin language. These clouds of the 
morning, however, were but the prelude of a brilliant day. 
His after successes were proportionately rapid and complete. 
The stories which are told of him seem almost legendary. 
He is said to have read the entire Iliad and Odyssey in twenty- 
one days, and to have run through the Greek dramatists 
and lyric poets in four months. He was but seventeen 
years old when he produced his ffidipus. At the same age 
he was able to speak Hebrew with all the fluency of a Rabbi. 
His application to study was unremitting, and his powers of 
endurance are described as beyond all example. He himself 
tells, that even in the darkness of the night, when he awoke 
from his brief slumbers, he was able to read without lighting 

* It is true that some part of its materials have since become su- 
perannuated by the fuller and more accurate researches of later in- 
vestigators, (see Bunsen's Christianity and Mankind, III. 47.) But 
it is nevertheless a work even still of immense value. 


liis lamp !* So powerful, according to his own account, was l\is 
eje-sight, that like the knight of Deloraine : — 

" Alike to him was tide and time. 
Moonless midnight, and matin prime !" 

After a brilliant career at Paris, he was invited to occupy the 
chair of Belles Lettres at Leyden, where the best part of his 
life was spent. Like most eminent hnguisls, Scaliger pos- 
sessed the faculty of memory in an extraordinary degree. He 
could repeat eighty couplets of poetry after a single reading : 
he knew by heart every line of his own compositions, and it 
was said of him that he never forgot anything which he had 
learnt once. But with all his gifts and all his accomplish- 
ments, he contrived to render himself an object of general dis- 
like, or at least of general dis-esteem. His vanity was insuf- 
ferable ; and it was of that peculiarly ofTensive kind which is 
only gratified at the expense of the depreciation of others. 
His life was a series of literary quarrels ; and in the whole 
annals of literary polemics, there are none with which, for 
acrimony, virulence, and ferocity of vituperation, these quarrels 
may not compete. And hence, although there is hardly a 
subject, literary, antiquarian, philological, or critical, on which 
he has not written, and (for his age) written well, there are 
few, nevertheless, who have exercised less influence upon con- 
temporary opinion. Scaliger spoke thirteen languages, in 
the study of which Bailletf says he never used either a dic- 
tionary or a grammar. He himself declares the same. The 
languages ascribed to him are strangely jumbled together in 
the following lines of Du Bartas : — 

" Scaliger, merveille de notre age, 

Soleil des savants, qui parte elegamment 
Hebreu, Grefois, Romain, Espagnol, Allemand, 
Fran9ois, Italien, Nubian, Arabique, 
Sjriaque, Persian, Anglois, Chaldaique."J 

In his case it is difficult, as in most others, to ascertain the 
degree of his familiarity with each of these. To Du Bartas's 
poetical epithet, elegamment, of course, no importance is to be 
attached ; and it would perhaps be equally unsafe to rely on 

* Strange and incredible as this anecdote may seem, it is told se- 
riously by Scaliger himself, who adds that the same extraordinary 
power was possessed also by Jerome Cardan and by his father. See 
the curious article in Moreri, voce " Scaliger." 

t Enfans Celebres, p. 196. 

X An equally eulogistic epigram, by Heinsius, is quoted by Hallain. 
Literary History, II. 35. 


the depreciatory representation? of his literary antagonists. 
One thing, at least, is certain, that he himself made the most 
of his accomplishment. He was not the man to hide his 
light from any overweening delicacy. He was one of the 
greatest boasters of his own or any other time. In one place 
he boasts that there is no language in which he could write 
with such elegance as Arabic* In another he professes to 
write Syriac as well as the Syrians themselves.f And it is 
curiously significant of the reputation which he commonly 
enjoyed, that the wits of his own day used to say that there 
was one particular department of each language in which 
there could be no doubt of his powers — its Billingsgate vo- 
cabulary ! There was not one, they confessed, of the thirteen 
languages to which he laid claim, in which he was not fully 
qualified to scold !J 

The eminent botanist, Charles Le Cluse, (Clusius), a con- 
temporary of Scaliger, can hardly be called a great linguist, 
as his studies were chiefly confined to the modern European 
languages, with several of which he was thoroughly conver- 
sant; but he is remarkable as having contributed, by a fami- 
liarity with modern languages very rare among the naturalists 
of his day, to settle the comparative popular nomenclature 
of his science. He is even still a high authority on this 
curious brancli of botanical study. 

The reader who remembers the extraordinary reputation en- 
joyed among his contemporaries by the learned Nicholas Peiresc, 
may be disappointed at finding him overlooked in this enume- 
ration : but, as of his extraordinary erudition he has left no per- 
manent fruit in literature, so of his acquirements as a linguist 
no authentic record has been preserved. The same is true 
of his friend, Galaup de Chasteuil, a less showy, perhaps, but 
better read orientalist. Through devotion to these studies, 
quite as much as under the influence of religious feeling, 
Chasteuil made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and, in 1631, 
permanently fixed his abode in Palestine ; and so thoroughly 
conversant did he become, not only with the language and 
literature, but also with the manners, usages and feelings of 
the Marouites of the Lebanon, that, on the death of their 

* Scaligeriana, p. 130. This collection is the first of the series of 
anas since so popular. 

t Ibid. p. 232. 

t On Scaliger's powers of abuse, see M. Nisard's brilliant and 
amusing Triumvirat Literaire au XVI. Siecle, p. 296, 302, 30.5, 
&c. The " triumvirs" are Lipsius, Scaliger and Casaubon. 


patriarch, despite the national predilections by which all Eas- 
terns are characterized, they desired to elect him, a Western as 
he was, head of their national church."* Lewis de Dieu, the 
two Morins — Stephen, the Calvinist minister, and John, the 
learned Oratorian convert — the two Cappels, Lewis and James, 
and even the celebrated D'Herbelot, author of the Bibliotheque 
Orientale, all belong rather to the class of oriental scholars 
than of linguists in the popular acceptation of the word. 
The two Cappels, as well as their adversaries, the Buxtorfs, 
are best known in connexion with the controversy about the 
Masoretic Points. 

One of the writers named in a previous page, Claude Duret, 
although Adelungt could not discover any particulars regard- 
ing him, beyond those which are detailed in the title of his 
book, (where he is merely described as " Bourbonnais, Presi- 
dent a Moulins,^'') nevertheless deserves very special mention 
on account of the extensive and curious learning, not alone in 
languages, but also in general literature, history and science, 
which characterize his rare work, Thresor de PKistoire cles 
Langues de cet Univers-X This work is undoubtedly far from 
being exempt from grave inaccuracies; but it is nevertheless, 
for its age, a marvel, as well of curious learning and extensive 
research, as of acquaintance with a great many (according to 
one account, seventeen,) languages, both of the East and of 
the West.§ How much of this, however, is mere book-scholar- 
ship, and how much is real familiarity, it is impossible, in the 
absence of all details of the writer's personal history, to decide. 

Although far from being so universal a linguist as Duret, 
the great biblical scholar, Samuel Bochart (born at Rouen in 
1599) was much superior to him in his knowledge of Hebrew 
and the cognate languages, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, and even 
Coptic. His Hierozoicon and Geographia Sacra, as monuments 
of philological as well as antiquarian knowledge, have maintained 
a high reputation even to the present time, notwithstanding 

Feller's Diet. Biograph., vol. V. p. 312. 

t Mithridates, I, 650. 

j Cologne 1615. 

§ I cannot help thinking that Adelung quite underrates this curious 
work. 1 have seldom consulted it but with pleasure or profit. And the 
concluding chapter, " on the language of animals and of birds," on 
which great ridicule has been thrown, is in reality a very curious, 
interesting, and judicious essay. 


the advantages enjoyed by modern students of biblical antiqui- 
ties and history.* 

Bochart's pupil and his friend in early life, (although they 
were bitterly alienated from each other at a later period, and 
although Bocliart's death is painfully associated with their 
literary quarrelt) the celebrated Peter Daniel Huet, can hardly 
deserve a place in the catalogue of French linguists; but he 
was at least a liberal and enlightened patron of the study. 

Many of the French missionaries of the seventeenth century 
would deserve a place in this series, and among them especially 
Francis Picquet, who, after serving for several years as French 
consul at xVleppo, embraced a missionary life^ and at last 
was consecrated Archbishop of Bagdad in 1674. Le Jay, the 
projector and editor of the well-known polyglot Bible which 
appeared in France a few years before the rival publication of 
Brian Walton, though he is often spoken of as the mere patron 
of the undertaking, was in reality a very profound and accom- 
phshed Orientalist. The same may be said of Rapheleng, the 
son-in-law of Plantin, and often described as his mere assistant 
in the publication of the King of Spain's Polyglot Bible. 
]\Iatthew Veysiere de la Croze, too, the apostate Benedictine, 
although a superficial scholar and a hasty and inaccurate 
historian, was a very able linguist. 

But, as we descend lower in the history of this generation 
of French linguists, we find comparatively few names which, 
for variety of attainments, can be compared with those of Italy 
or Germany. Beyond the cultivation of the Bibhcal languages, 
little was done in France for this department of study during 
the rest of the seventeenth century. There seems but too 
ranch reason to believe that the reputation of the learned but 

* Mr. Kenrick, in the preface of his recent work on Phoenicia, 
confesses that " the most diligent reader of ancient authors with a 
view to the illustration of Phoenician history, will find himself anti- 
cipated or surpassed by Bochart." 

t Bochart's death was the consequence of a fit v.ith which he was 
seized during a vehement dispute which he had with Huet, in the 
academy of Caen in 1667, respecting the authenticity of some Span- 
ish medals. Huet appears to have long felt the memory of it painfully. 
He alludes to it in a letter to his nephew, Piadore de Chersigne, 
above forty years afterwards ; and seems to console himself by think- 
ing that Bochart's death " ne lui fut causee par notre dispute, sinon 
en partie." It is curious that Disraeli has overlooked this in his 
" Quarrels of Authors." 


])eclantic Menage as a linguist, is extravagantly exaggerated, 
lie was an accomplished classicist, and his acquaintance with 
modern languages was tolerably extensive. He was a good 
etymologist, too, according to the servile and unscientific system 
of the age. But his claims to Oriental scholarship appear 
very questionable. And in truth during this entire period, if 
it were not for the interest of the controversy above referred 
to, on the antiquity and authority of the Masoretic Points, 
it might almost be said that Oriental studies had fallen entirely 
into disuse in France Even of those who took a part in that 
discussion, the name of Masclef (who knew Greek, Hebrew, 
Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic, with perhaps some of the modern 
languages) is the only one which can approach the rank of 
the higher masters of the study. The three Buxtorfs (father, 
son, and grandson), Guarin, and even Girandeau, were mere 
Hebraists ; patient and accurate scholars, it is true, but with 
few of the characteristics of an eminent linguist. La Bletterie 
can hardly claim even this qualified reputation. 

There is one briUiant exception — the eminent historian and 
controversialist, Eusebius Jienaudot. He was born at Paris 
in 1646. Having made his classical studies under the Jesuits, 
and those of Philosophy in the College d'Harcourt, he entered 
the congregation of the Oratory. But he very soon quitted 
that society ; and, although he continued to wear the ecclesias- 
tical dress, he never took holy orders. His life, however, 
was a model of piety and of every Christian virtue ; and it was 
his peculiar merit that, while many of his closest friends and 
most intimate literary allies were members of the Jansenist 
party, Renaudot was inflexible in his devotion to the judgment 
of the Holy See. His first linguistic studies lay among the 
Oriental languages, the rich fruit of which we still possess in his 
invaluable Collection of Oriental Liturgies, and in the last two 
volumes of the Perpetuite de la Foi sur VEucharistie, which 
are also from his prolific pen. But he soon extended his re- 
searches into other fields ; and he is said to have been master 
of seventeen languages,* the major part of which he spoke 
with ease and fluency. 

But Renaudot stands almost alone.f The only names which 

• Feller's Diet. Biograph. vol. X. p. 476. 

t Perhaps I ought to mention Renaudot's contemporary, the 
Jesuit, Father Claude Francis Menestrier, (1G3I-1704), although 


may claim to be placed in comparison with his, arc tliose of 
the two Pctis, EraiiQois Potis, and Francois Petis dc la Croix. 
The latter especially, who succeeded his father as royal Orien- 
tal inter|)reter, under Lewis XIV., and made several expedi- 
tions to the East in this capacity, was well versed, not only 
in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Tartar, but also in Coptic and 
Armenian. His translation of tlie Arabian Nights Entertain- 
ments is the work by which he is best known ; but his disser- 
tations and collections on Oriental history arc full of valuable 
learning. The eighteenth century in France was a period of 
greater activity. Etienne Fourmont, although born in 1683, 
belongs proi)erly to the eighteenth century. He is often cited 
as an example of extraordinary powers of memory, having, 
when a mere boy, learnt by rote the whole list of Greek Roots 
in Ihe Port Royal Treatise, so as to repeat them in every 
conceivable order. He soon after published in French verse 
all the roots of the Latin language. But it is as an Ori- 
entalist that he is chiefly remarkable. He was appointed to 
the chair of Arabic in the College Royal, and also to the 
office of Oriental interpreter in the Bibliotheque du Roi ; and 
soon established such a reputation as an OrientaHst, that he 

not a great linguist, is at least notable for the rather rare accomplish- 
ment of speaking Greek with remarkable propriety and fluency, and 
still more for his prodigious memory, which Queen Christina of 
Sweden tried by a very singular ordeal. She had a string of three 
hundred words, the oddest and most unconnected that could be 
devised, written down without the least order or connexion, and 
read over once in Menestrier's presence. He repeated them in thei? 
exact order, without a single mistake or hesitation ! — Biogruphie 
Univ., Vol. XXVIII., p. 293. 

A still more extraordinary example of this power of memory is 
related by Padre Menocchio (the well-known Biblical commentator, 
Menochius) of a young Corsican whom Muretmet at Padua, and who 
was not only able to repeat in their regular order a jumble of words 
similar to that described above, but could repeat them backwards, 
(Old ivith various other modijications ! The youth assured Muret that 
he could retain in this way 36,000 words, and that he would under- 
take to keep them in memory for an entire year ! See Menocchio's 
Stuore, Part III., p. 89- The Stuore is a miscellaneous collection, 
compiled by this learned Jesuit during his hours of recreation. He 
called the work by this quaint title (Ang. " Mats") in allusion to the 
habit of the ancient monks, who used to employ their leisure hours 
in weaving mats, in the literal sense of the word. This fanciful title 
is not unlike that chosen by Clement of Alexandria for a somewhat 
similar miscellany, his J^T^df^ecTx [Tapestry], or perhaps the more 
literal one *' Patchwork," aosumed by a popular writer of our owi» 



was consulted on philological questions by the learned of every 
country in Europe. He was thoroughly master of Greek, 
Hebrew, xlrabic, Syriac, and Persian, and was one of the first 
French scholars who, without having visited China,* attained 
to any notable proficiency in Chinese. 

His nephew, Michael Angelo Desha uterayes, born at Con- 
flans Ste. Honorine, near Pontoise, M2i, was even more j)reco- 
cious. At tiie age of ten, he commenced his studies under 
Fourmont's superintendence. He thus became familiar at an 
early age with Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, and Chinese ; so that 
in his twenty-second year he was appointed to succeed his 
uncle as Oriental Interpreter to the lioyal Library, to which 
post, a few years later, was added the Arabic professorship 
in the College de France. In these employments he devoted 
hinjself to Oriental studies for above thirty years. 

Another pupil of Fourmont, Joseph dc Guignes, born at 
Pontoise in 1721, attained equal eminence as an Orientalist. 
At Fourmont's death, he was associated with the last named 
linguist on the staft' of the lioyal Library. But De Guignes' 
merit in the department of Oriental history and antiquities,~has 
almost overshadowed his reputation as a mere linguist, altliough 
he was a proficieut in all tlie principal Eastern languages, and 
in many'of those of Europe. His History of the Huns, Turks, 
Moguls, and other Tartar nations, notwithstanding that many 
of its views are now discarded, is still regarded as a reper- 
tory of Oriental learning ; and, while both in this and 
also in some others of his works, De Guignes is often vision- 
ary and even paradoxical,t he is acknowledged to have 
done more for Cliinese literature in France, than any linguist 
before Abel Eemusat ; nor is there one of the scholars of the 
eighteenth century, who in the spirit, if not in the letter, of 
the views which he put forward, comes so near to the more 
enlarged and more judicious theories of the scholars of our 
own day, ou the general questions of philology. 

* Many of the French missionaries in China, of course, were 
distinguished Chinese scholars. The Dictionary of Pere Aiuiot, for 
example, although not published till after his death, is still a 
standard work. It was edited by Langles in 1789-90. 

■f For msta,r\ce his Me7noire (laiis le quel on pronve que les Chinois 
sont line Co/onie Egyptienne ; a notion which was warmly controverted 
by his fellow pupil, Deshauterayes. De Guignes argues from the 
supposed resemblance of the Chinese and Phoenician characters. 
His great Chinese Dictionary, with Klaproth's supplement, (2 vols. 
fol., Paris, 1813-19) is in Mezzofanti's Catalogue, p. 6, 



From the days of De Guigues the higher departments of 
linguistic science fell for a time into disrepute in France; but 
a powerful impulse was given to the practical cultivation of 
Oriental languages by the diplomatic relations of that kingdom 
with Constantinople and the Levant. The official appoint- 
ments connected with that service served to supply at once a 
stimulus to the study and an opportunity for its practice. Car- 
donne, Ruffin,"^ Legrand, KiefFer, Venture de Paradis, and 
Langles, were all either trained in that school, or devoted 
themselves to the study as a preparation for it. 

Of these, perhaps John ]\lichael Venture De Paradis is the 
most remarkable. His father had been French Consul in the 
Crimea, and in various cities of the Levant, and appears to 
have educated the boy with a special view to the Oriental 
diplomatic service. From the College de Louis le Grand, he 
was transferred, at the age of fifteen, to Constantinople, and, 
before he had completed his twenty-second year, he was ap- 
pointed interpreter of the French embassy in Syria. Thence 
he passed into Egypt in the same capacitj', and, in 1777, 
accompanied Baron de Toit in his tour of inspection of the 
French estabhshments in the Levant. He was sent afterwards 
to Tunis, to Constantinople, and to Algiers ; and eventually 
was attached to the ministry of Foreign Atfairs in Paris, with 
the Professorship of Oriental Languages. His last service was 
in the memorable Egyptian expedition under Bonaparte, in 
which he fell a victim to fatigue, and the evil effects of the 
chmate, in 1799.t 

Lewis Matthew LanglesJ was a Picard, born at Peronne, 
in 1703. From his boyhood he too was destined for the 
diplomatic service ; and studied first at Moutdidier, and after- 
wards in Paris, where he obtained an employment which 
afforded him considerable leisure for the pursuit of his favour- 
ite studies. He learned Arabic under Caussin de Perceval, 
and Persian under Ruf&n. Soon afterwards, however, he en- 
gaged in the study of Mantchu, and in some time became 
such a proficient in that language, that he was entrusted with 
the task of editing the Mantchu Dictionary of Pere Amiot. 
From that time his reputation was estabhshed, at least with 

♦ Although of French parents, Ruffin was born in 1742 at Salonica, 
where his father was living in the capacity of chief interpreter of 
France. Feller, vol XL, p. 163. 

t Biogr. Univ. XIX., 172 (Brussels ed.) 

t Biogr. Univ., vol. LXX., p. 189-200. 


tlie general public. His subsequent publications in everj depart- 
ment of languages are nuraerous beyond all precedent. He 
had the reputation of knowing, besides the learned laiiguages, 
Chinese, Tartar, Japanese, Sanscrit, Malay, Armenian, Arabic, 
Turkish, and Persian. But it must be added that the solidity of 
these attainments has been gravely impeached, and that by 
many he is regarded more as a charlatan than as a scholar. 

No such cloud hangs over the fame of, after De Guignes, 
the true reviver of Chinese literature, Abel K.emusat.''*' He 
was born at Paris in 1788, and brought up to the medical 
profession ; and it may almost be said that the only time devo- 
ted by him to his early linguistic studies was stolen from the 
laborious preparation for the less congenial career to which 
he was destined by his father. By a very unusual preference, 
he applied himself, almost from the first, to the Chinese and 
Tartar languages. Too poor to afford the expensive luxury of a 
Chinese dictionary, he com])iled, with incredible labour, a vo- 
cabulary for his own use; ai^d the interest created at once by 
the success of his studies, and by the unexampled devotedness 
with which they were pursued, were so great as to procure for 
him, at the unanimous instance of the Academy of Inscriptions, 
the favour, at that period rare and difficult, of exemption from 
the chances of military conscription. Trom that time forward 
he applied himself unremittingly to philological pursuits ; and, 
although he was admitted doctor of the faculty of medicine, 
at Paris in 1813, he never appears to have practised actively 
in the profession. On the creation of the two new chairs of 
Chinese and Sanscrit, in the College de Prance, after the Res- 
toration, Hemusat was appointed to the former, in November, 
1814; from which period he gave himself up entirely to litera- 
ture. He was speedily admitted into all the learned societies 
both of Paris and of other countries ; and in 1818 he became one 
of the editors of the Journal des Savans. On the establish- 
ment (in which he had a chief part,) of the Societe Asiatique, 
in 1822, he was named its perj)etual secretary; and, on the 
death of Langles, in 1824, he succeeded to the charge of 
keeper of Oriental MSS. in the Bibhotheque du Roi. This 
office he contiimed to hold till his early and universally lamen- 
ted death in 1832. Remusat's eminence lay more in the 

* Augusts Herbin, a few years Remusat's senior (having been born 
at Paris 178.3), was cut oft' in the very commencement of a most 
promising career as an Orientalist, He died in 1806, before he had 
completed his twenty-fourth year. 


depth and accuracy of his scholarsliip in the one great hiuiich 
of Oriental languages, which he selected as his own — those of 
Eastern Asia — and in the profoundly phil()soi)hical s[)irit which 
he brought to tlie investigation of the relations of these lan- 
guages to each other, and to the other great families of the 
earth, than in the numerical extent of his acquaintance with 
particular languages. But this, too, was such as to place him 
in the very first rank of linguists. 

A few words must suiRce for the I'rcnch school since lle- 
musat, although it has held a very distinguished place in 
philological science. The Socicte Asiati([ue, founded at 
Kemusat's instance, and for many years directed by him as 
secretary, has not oidy produced many eminent individual 
philologers, as De Sacy, Quatremere, ChampoUion, Kenan, 
Fresnel, and De Merian ; but, what is far more important, it 
has successfully carried out a systematic scheme of investiga- 
tion, by which alone it is possible, in so vast a subject, to 
arrive at satisfactory results. M. Stanislas Julien's researches 
in Chinese ; M. Dulaurier^s in the Malay languages ; Fatiier 
Marcoux's in the American Indian ; Eugene Bourmouf's 
in those of Persia ; the brothers Antoine and Arnauld d'Ab- 
badie in the languages of East Africa, and especially in 
the hitherto almost unknown Abyssinian and Ethiopian fami- 
lies; Eugene Bore in Armenian;* M. Fresnel's explorations 
among the tribes of the western shores of the Ked Sea ; 
and many sunilar successful investigations of particular 
departments, are contributing to lay up such a body of facts, 
as cannot fail to afford sure and reliable data for the scientific 
solution by the philologers of the coming generation, of those 
great problems in the science of language, on which their 
fathers could only speculate as a theory, and at the best 
could but address themselves in conjecture. Although 1 
have no intention of entering into the subject of living Erench 
linguists, yet there is one of the gentlemen whom 1 have men- 
tioned, M. Eulgence Fresnel, whom I cannot refrain from 
alluding to before I pass from the subject of French philology. 
His name is probably familiar to the public at large, in con- 
nexion with the explorations of the French at Nineveh ; but he 
is long known to the readers of the Journal Asiatique as a 
linguist not unworthy of the very highest rank in that branch 

* M, Eugene Bore has been in Armenia what the two D'Abbadies 
have been in Abyssinia — at once a schohir and a missionary — the 
pioneer of religion and civilization, no less than of science. 


of scholarship. M. d'Abbadie,* himself a most accomplished 
linguist, informed me tliat M. Presnel, althougli exceedingly 
modest on the subject of his attainments, has tlie reputation 
of knowing twenty languages. The facility with which he 
has acquired some of these languages almost rivals the fame 
of Mezzofanti. M. Arago having suggested on one occasion 
the desirableness of a French translation of Berzelius's Swedish 
Treatise " On the Blow-pipe," Fresnel at once set about learn- 
ing Swedish, and in three months had completed the desired 
translation ! He reads fluently Hebrew, Greek, Romaic, La- 
tin, Itahan, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and what little is 
known of the Hieroglyphical language. He is second only to 
Lane as an Arabic scholar. Among the less known languages 
of which M. Fresnel is master, M. d'Abbadie heard him speak 
a few sentences of one, of which he may be said to have him- 
self been the discoverer, and which is, in some respects, com- 
pletely anomalous. M. Fresnel describes this curious language 
in the Journal Asiatique, July, 1838. It is spoken by the 
savages of Mahrak ; and as it is not reducible to any of the 
three families, the Aramaic, the Canaanitic, or the Arabic, of 
which, according to Gesenius, the Ethiopia is an elder branch, 
M. Fresnel believes it to be the very language spoken by the 
Queen of Saba ! Its present seat is in the mountainous dis- 
trict of Hhacik, Mirbat, and Zhafar. Its most singular cha- 
racteristic consists it its articulations, which are exceedingly 
difficult and most peculiar. Besides all the nasal sounds of 
the French and Portuguese, and that described as the "sputtered 
sound" of the Amharic, this strange tongue has three articula- 
tions, which can only be enunciated with the right side of the 
mouth ; and the act of uttering them produces a contortion 
which destroys the syuimetry of the features ! M. Fresnel 
describes it as " horrible, both to hear and to see spoken." 
Endeavouring to represent the force of one of these sounds by 
the letters hh, he calls the language Ehhkili.^ 

" I gladly avail myself of this opportunity to acknowledge the 
valuable assistance on many points which I have received, in the 
form both of information and of suggestion, at the hands of this dis- 
tinguished philologist and traveller. I am but speaking the com- 
mon feeling of the learned of every country, when J express a hope 
that, before long, the world may be favoured with the results of his 
long and laborious researches in the language, literature, and his- 
tory of Ethiopia. 

t Journ. Asiat. 3me., Serie, Vol. VI. p. 79. 



If we abstract from the Sacred Languages, the Clerman 
scholars were slow in turning themselves to Oriental studies. 

John Miiih^r, of Konigsberg, commonly known as Regio- 
montanus, although he had tlie highest repute for learning 
of all the German scholars of the fifteenth century', does not 
appear to have gone beyond the classical languages. Martin 
Luther, Eeuchiin,t Ulrich Van Hutten, Hoogenstraet,were He- 
braists and no more ; John and VYidmanstadt, when he wished 
to study Arabic, was forced to make a voyage to Spain ex- 
pressly fort lie purpose. 

The first student of German race at all distinguished 
by scholarship in languages, was Theodore Bibliander,J who, 
besides Greek and Hebrew, was also well versed in Arabic, 
and probably in many other Oriental tongues. § The celebrated 
naturalist, Conrad Gesner, though perhaps not so solidly versed 
as Bibliander, in any one language, appears to have possessed 
a certain acquaintance with a greater number. His Mi- 
thridates ; cle Differ entiis Linguarum,\\ resembles in plan as 
well as in name, the great work of Adelung. The number 
•and variety of the languages which it comprises is extraordi- 
nary for the period. It contains the Pater Noster in twenty- 
two of these ; and, although the observations on many of the 
s])ecimens are exceedingly brief and unsatisfactory, yet they 
ofteuexhibitmuch curious learning, and no n)ean familiarity with 
the language to which they belong.^ Gesner's success as a 

* Under this head are included all the members of the German 
family — Dutch, Flemings, Swedes, Danes, Swiss, &c. 1 have found 
it convenient, too, to include Hungarians (as Austrian suhjects), 
although, of course, their proper ethnological place should be 

t Better known by his Grecised name, Capnio {kxtthoI) Rauchlein, 
" a little smoke.") 

% Bibliander was a Swiss, horn at Bischoffzell about 1500. Mis 
family name was Bachniann (Bookman), which, in the fashion of his 
time, he translated into the Greek, Bibliander. 

§ Duret says they were *' beyond numbering" ; but so vague a 
statement cannot be urged too literally. Thresor, p. 963. 

II Zurich 1545. It is a small 12mo. 

^ Gesner's Mithridates is perhaps remarkable as containing the 
earliest printed specimen of the Rothwalsches, or " Gipsy-German." 
He gives a vocabulary of this slang language, of about seven pages 
in length. It is only just to his memory to add that in his Epilogue, 
which is a very pleasing composition, he acknowledges the manifold 
imperfections of the work, and only claims the merit of opening a 
way for infjuirers of more capacity and better opportunities of research. 


linguist is tlie more remarkable, inasmuch as that study by no 
means formed his principal pursuit. Botany and Natural His- 
tory might much better be called the real business of his 
literary life. Accordingly, Beza says of him, that he united 
in his person the very opposite genius of Varro and Pliny ; 
and, although he died at the comparatively early age of forty- 
nine, his works on Natural History fill nearly a dozen folio vo- 
lumes. Both Gesner and Bibhander fell victim^, one in 1564, 
the other in 1565, to the great plague of the sixteenth 

Jerome Megiser, who, towards the close of the same century 
compiled the more extensive polyglot collection of Pater Nosters 
already referred to, need scarcely be noticed. He is de- 
scribed by Adelung,* as a man of various, but trivial and su- 
perficial learning. 

Not so another German scholar of the same age, Jacob 
Christmann, of Maintz. Christmann was no less distinguished 
as a philosopher than as a linguist. He held for many years 
at Heidelberg the seemingly incompatible professorships of 
Hebrew, Arabic, and Logic, and is described as deeply versed 
in all the ancient and modern languages, as well as in mathe- 
matical and astronomical science. t 

It would be unjust to overlook the scholars of the Low 
Countries during the same period. Some of these, as for ex- 
ample, Drusius, and the three Schultens, father, son, and grand- 
son, were chiefly remarkable as Hebraists. But there are many 
others, both of the Belgian and the Dutch schools, whose 
scholarship was of a very high order. Among the former, 
Andrew Maes (Masius,) deserves a very special notice. 
He was born in 1536, at Linnich in the diocess of Cour- 
trai. In 1553 he was sent to Home as charge d'affaires. 
During his residence there, in addition to Greek, Latin, 
Spanish, and other European languages, with which he was 
already familiar, he made himself master, not only of Italian, 
but also of Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac. He is said J to have 
assisted Arias Montanus in the compilation of his Polyglot 
Bible ; but of this no mention is made by Montanus in the 
preface. No doubt, however, can be entertained of his 
great capacity as an Orientalist; and Sebastian Munster used 
to say of him that he seemed to have been brought up among 

* Mithridatos, I., G49. 

t Biographic IJiiiversellc, Vol. VIII., 483. 

i Fcllcr, Vol. VIII., 136. 


the Hebrews, and to have lived in tlie classic days of the 
Roman Empire. About the same period, or a few years later, 
David Haecx published his dictionary of the Malay languages, 
one of the earliest contributions to the study of that curious 
family. Haecx, though he spent his life in Eome, was a native 
of Antwerp. 

John Baptist Gramaye, already named as a collector of 
Pater Nosters, acquired some reputation as one of the first con- 
tributors to the history of the languages of Africa, although 
his work is described by Adelung as very inaccurate. Gra- 
maye was a native of Antwerp, and became provost of Arnheim 
and historiographer of the Low Countries. On a voyage from 
Italy to Spain, he fell into the hands of Algerine corsairs, who 
carried him to xllgiers. There he was sold as a slave, and was 
detained a considerable time in Barbary. Having at length ob- 
tained his liberty, he pubhshed, after his return, a diary of his 
captivity, a descriptive history of Africa, and a polyglot coi- 
tion of Pater Nosters, among which are several African langua- 
ges not previously known in Europe,^ Very little, however, 
is known of his own personal acquirements, which are notice- 
able, perhaps, rather on account of their unusual character, 
than of their great extent or variety. 

Some of the linguists of Holland may claim a higher rank. 
The well-known Arabic scholar, Erpenius, (T'homas Van 
Erpen,) was also acquainted with several other Oriental lan- 
guages, Hebrew, Chaldee, Persian, Turkish, and Ethiopic. 
His countryman and successor in the chair of Oriental lan- 
guages at Leyden. James Golius, was hardly less distinguished. 
Peter Golius, brother of James, wbo entered the Carmelite 
Order and spent many years as a missionary in Syria and 
other parts of the East, became equally celebrated in Rome 
for his Oriental scholarship. In ail these three cases the 
knowledge of the languages was not a mere knowledge of 
books, but had been acquired by actual travel and research in 
the various countries of the East. 

John Henry Hottinger, too, a pupil of James Golius at 
Leyden, and the learned Jesuit, Eather Athanasius Kircher, 
belong also to this period. The latter, who is well known 
for his varied and extensive attainments in every department 
of science, was moreover a linguist of no ordinary merit.t 
He was born at Geyzen, near Eulda, in 16U2, and entered 

* Mithridatos, I., 596. 

f Biogr. Univ., Art. Kircher. 


the Jesuit society in J 618, when only sixteen years old. No 
detailed account is given by iiis biographers (with whom lan- 
guages were of minor interest,) of the exact extent of his at- 
tainments in the department of languages; but they were both 
diversified and respectable, and in some things he was far beyond 
the men of his own time. His Lingua Egjjptiaca Restituta 
may still be consulted with advantage by the student of 

Most of these men, however,confined themselves chiefly to one 
particular department. The first really universal linguist of 
Germany is the great Ethiopic scholar, Job Ludolf, wlio was 
born at Erfurt, in l(i24. Early in life he devoted himself to 
the study of languages; and his extensive travels — first as pre- 
ceptor to the sons of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, and afterwards 
as tutor to the children of the Swedish ambassador in Paris — 
coupled with his unexampled industry,* enabled him, notonly 
to hold a high rank in history and general literature, but also 
to attain to a success as a linguist which had rarely 
been equalled before his time. He is said to have been mas- 
ter of twenty-five languages,t but as I have never seen any 
exact enumeration of them, I am inclined to allow for consi- 
derable exaggeration. 

There is even more reason to suspect of exaggeration ihe 
popular accounts which have come down to us of a self-educa- 
ted linguist of the same period — a Saxon peasant called 
Nicholas Schmid, more commonly known as Ciintzel of 
Eothenacker, from the name of the village where he was born, 
in 1606. This extraordinary man was the son of a peasant. 
His youth was entirely neglected. He worked as a common 
labourer on his father's farm, and, until his sixteenth year, 
never had learned even the letters of the alphabet. At this 
age one of the farm-servants taught hira to read, greatly to the 
dissatisfaction of his father, who feared that such studies would 
withdraw him from his work. Soon afterwards, a relative who 
was a notary, gave him a few lessons in Latin ; atid, under the 
direction of the same relative, he learned the rudiments of 
Greek, Hebrew, and other languages. During all this time, 
he continued his daily occupation as a farm-labourer, and had 
no time for his studies but what he was able to steal from the 
hours allotted for sleep and for meals ; the latter of which he 
snatched in the most hurried manner, and always with an open 

* Even at his meals Ludolf always kept an open book before him. 
t Feller's Diet. Biog. VII., p. 622. 


book by his side. In this strange way, aniit! the toils of 
the field and of the farm-yard, Schmid is said to have acquired a 
store of knowledge the details of which border upon the 
marvelous, one of his recorded performances being a translation 
of the Lord's Prayer into fifty-one languages \^ 

One of the scholars engaged in the compilation of Walton's 
Polyglot, Andrew Miiller, has left a reputation less marvellous, 
but more solid. He was born about 1630, at Greiffenhagen 
in Pomerania. Miiller, like Crichton, was a precocious genius. 
At eighteen he wrote verses freely in Latin, Greek, and He- 
brew. On the completion of his studies, he became pastor of 
Konigsberg on the Warta ; but the duties of that charge soon 
became distasteful to him, and, after a short trial, he resolved, 
at the invitation of Casteh, to settle in England, and devote 
himself to literature. He arrived just as Brian Walton was 
making arrangements for the publication of his celebrated 
Polyglot Bible, and at once entered earnestly into the scheme. 
He took up his residence in the house of John Castell in the 
Strand, where, for ten years, he applied himself unremittingly 
to study. It is told of him that, in the ardour of study or 
the indifference of scholastic seclusion, he would not raise his 
head from his books to look out of the window, on occa- 
sion of Charles II.^s triumphal progress at the Eestoration ! 
Having received from Bishop Wilkins some information on 
the subject of Chinese, he conceived a most enthusiastic passion 
for that language. He obtained some types at Antwerp, and, 
through the instructions of the celebrated Jesuit, Father Kir- 
cher, and other members of the society, he was perhaps the 
first European scholar who, without actually visiting China, 
acquired a mastery of its language ; as he is certainly one of 
the first who deserted the track of the old philologers, and 
attempted the comparative study of languages on principles 
approaching to those which modern science has made familiar. 
Soon after the completion of W^alton's Polyglot Miiller returned 
to Germany. He was named successively Pastor of Bernau 
and Provost of BerHn in 16G7, but resigned both livings in 
1685, and lived thenceforth in retirement at Stettin. He died 
in 1694. Although a most laborious man and a voluminous 
writer, Muller^s views were visionary and unpractical. He 
professed to have devised a plan of teaching, so complete, 
that, by adopting it, a perfect knowledge ot Chinese could be 

* Biographie Universelle, Yol. XLL, p. 180. 


acquired in half a year, and so simple, tliat it could be applied 
to the instruction of persons of the most ordinary capacity, 
lialler states that he spoke no less than twenty languages. 

A Burgomaster-linguist is a more singular literary pheno- 
menon. AVe are so little accustomed to connect that title with 
any thing above the plodding details of the commerce with 
\\ hich it is inseparably associated, that the name of Nicholas 
AVitzen, Burgomaster of Amsterdam, deserves to be specially 
commemorated^ as an exception to an unliterary class. It was 
in the pursuit of his vocation as a merchant that Witzen 
acquired the chief part of the languages with which he was 
acquainted. He made repeated expeditions to Russia between 
the years 1666 and 1677, in several of which he penetrated 
far into the interior of the country, and had opportunities of 
associating witlv many of the motley races of that vast empire ; 
Slavonians, Tartars, Cossacks, Saraoiedes, and the various 
Siberian tribes ; as well as with natives of Eastern kingdoms 
not subject to Eussia,* Besides inquiries into the geography 
and natural history of those countries which lie upon the 
north-eastern frontier of Europe and the contiguous provinces 
of Asia, AVitzen used every effort to glean information regarding 
their languages. He obtained, in most of these languages, 
not only versions of the Lord^s Prayer, but also vocabularies 
comprising a considerable number of Mords ; both of which he 
supplied to his friend and correspondent, Leibnitz, for publica- 
tion in his Collectaitea Eti/moIogica.'\ How far Witzen himself 
was acquainted with these languages it is difficult to determine; 
but he is at least entitled to notice as the first collector of 
materials for this particular branch of the study. 

David Wilkins, Chamberlayne^s fellow-labourer in the com- 
pilation of the Collection of Pater Nosters referred to in a 
former page, may also deserve a passing notice. The place of 
his birth, which occurred about 1685, is a matter of some 
uncertainty. AdelungJ thinks he was a native of Dantzig; by 
others he is believed to have been a native of Holland. The 
best part of his life, however, was spent in England ; where, at 
Cambridge, he took the degree of Doctor of Divinity, in 
1717. He was afterwards appointed Librarian of Lambeth 

* Adelung's Mithridates, I„ 660. 

t They are given in the second volume. Witzen's letters to 
Leibnitz are of the years 1C97, 1698, and 1699. Opn. Vol. VI., Part 
II., pp. 191-206. The specimens of the Pater Noster are in the 
Collectanea Etvinol., ib, 187. 

X I., 064. 



and Archdeacon of Suffolk. His qualiticatioiis ;is Polyglot 
tditor, at the time when he underlouk to assist Chainberlayiie, 
appear to have consisted rather in patient industry and general 
scholarship, than in any extraordinary familiarity with languages; 
though he afterwards obtained considerable reputation, especially 
by an edition of the New Testament in Coptic, in 1716. 

With the illustrious name of Leibnitz we commence a new 
era in the science of languages. This extraordiiiary man, who 
united in himself all the most varied, and it might seem incom- 
patible, excellencies of other men — a jurist and a divine, a 
mathematician and a poet, a historian and a philosopher — 
added to all his other prodigious attainments a most extensive 
and profound knowledge of languages. It is not, however, on 
the actual extent of his acquaintance with particular languages 
(although this too was most remarkable), that his fame as a 
scientific linguist rests. He was the first to recognize the true 
nature and objects of linguistic science, and to direct its studies 
to an object at once eminently practical and profoundly 
philosophical. It is not alone that, deserting the trivialities 
of the old etymologists, he laid down the true principles of 
the great science of comparative philology, and detected its 
full importance ; Leibnitz may claim the further merit of having 
himself almost created that science, and given it forth, a new 
Minerva, in its full and perfect development. There is hardly 
a principle of modern philology the germ of which may not be 
discovered in his singularly pregnant and suggestive essays 
and letters ; and, what is far more remarkable, he has often, 
with the instinctive sagacity of original genius, anticipated 
sometimes by conjecture, sometimes by positive prediction, 
analogies and results which the investigations of actual 
explorers have since realized.* 

One of the most important practical services rendered by 
Leibnitz to science, was the organization of academies and 
other scientific bodies, by which the efforts of individuals 
might be systematically guided to one common end, and the 
results of their researches, whether in collecting facts or in 

* See several interesting examples in the first of Cardinal Wiseman's 
Lectures " On the Connexion between Science and Revealed 
Religion," I., p. 25. The two lectures on the Comparative Studv 
of Languages exhaust the whole history of philological science down 
to the date of their publication. Ample justice is also rendered to 
Leibnitz's rare philological instinct by Chevalier Bunsen, Christianity 
and Mankind, IIL, 44. See also Guhraucr's "Leibnitz: Eine 
Biographie," IL, 129. 

developing theories, might, through the collision of many 
minds, be submitted to the ordeal of careful examination and 
judicious discussion. It is chiefly to him that science is 
indebted for the lloyal Society of Berlin and the Academy 
of St. Petersburg. Both of these bodies, although embracing 
the whole circle of science, have proved most eminent schools 
of languages ; and it is a curious illustration of that profound 
policy, in pursuance of which we see Eussia still availing 
herself of the service of genius wherever it is to be found, 
that many of the ablest German linguists of the eighteenth 
century were, either directly or indirectly, connected with 
the latter institution. 

Gerard Frederic Miiller is an early example. He was born, 
at Herforden in Westphalia, in 1705, and was a pupil of the 
celebrated Otto Mencken. Mencken, having been invited 
to become a member of the new academy of St. Petersburg, 
declined the honour for himself, but recommended his 
scholar Miiller in his stead. '^ Miiller accordingly accom- 
panied the scientific expedition which was sent to Siberia 
under the elder Gmelin, (also a German,) from 1733 to 1741. 
On his return, lie was appointed keeper of the Imperial 
Archives, and Historiographer of Eussia. Miiller does 
not appear to have given much attention to Oriental lan- 
guages; but he was more generally famihar with modern 
languages than most of the scholars of that period. t 

Augustus Lewis Schlotzer, another German literary adven- 
turer in the Eussian service, and for a time secretary of 
Miiller, was a more generally accomplished linguist. Unlike 
Miiller, he was a skilful Orientalist ; and he was versed, 
moreover, in several of the Slavonic languages with which 
Miiller had neglected to make himself acquainted, before 
engaging in the compilation of his great collection of Eussian 
Historians. For this he availed himself of the assistance 
of his secretary Schlotzer. Gottlieb Bayer of Konigsberg, 
one of the earliest among the scholars of Germany, author 
of the Museum Sinicum, also occupied for some years a chair 
at St. Petersburg; but he is better known by his ferocious 
controversial writings, than by his philological works. A much 
more distinguished scholar of modern Germany, almost 

See Denina's La Prusse Litteraire, III., 83. 
t He wrote chiefly in Russian. See Meusel's Gelehrte 
Deutschland, a dry but learned and accurate Dictionary of the 
living writers of Germany in the end of the eighteenth century, 
begun by Hoinberger in 1783, but continued by Meusel. 


entirely unknown in England, is Cliiistian William Buttner, 
He was born at Wolfenbiittel in 1716, and was destined by 
his father (an apothecarj) for the medical profession; but, 
although he gave his attention in the first instance to the 
sciences preparatory to that profession, the real pursuit of 
his life became philology, and especially in its relation to the 
great science of ethnography. It was a saying of Cuvier's, 
that Linnaeus and Buttner realised by their united studies the 
title of Grotius's celebrated work, "De Zmxq Natura et 
Gentium ; " — Linnseus by his j)ursuit of Natural History 
assuming the first, and Buttner, by his ethnological studies, 
appropriating the second — as the respective spheres of their 
operations. In every country which Buttner visited, he 
acquired not only the general language, but the most 
minute peculiarities of its j)rovincial dialects. Few literary 
lives are recorded in history which present such a picture of 
self-denial and privation voluntarily endured in the cause of 
learning, as that of Buttner, His library and museum., accu- 
mulated from the hoardings of his paltry income, were ex- 
ceedingly extensive and most valuable. In order to scrape 
together the means for their gradual purchase, he contented 
himself during the greater part of his later life with a single 
meal per day, the cost of which never exceeded a silber- 
groschen, or somewhat less than three half-pence ! * It may 
be inferred, however, from what has been said, that Buttner's 
attainments were mainly those of a book-man. In the scanty 
notices of him which we have gleaned, we do not find that 
his power of speaking foreign languages was at all what might 
have been exjjected from the extent and variety of his book- 
knowledge. But his services as a scientific philologer were 
infinitely more important, as well as more permanent, than 
any such ephemeral faculty. He was the first to observe and 
to cultivate the true relations of the monosyllabic languages 
of southern Asia, and to place them at the head of his scheme 
of the Asiatic and European languages. He was the first to 
conceive, or at least to carry out, the theory of the geographi- 
cal distribution of languages; and he may be looked on as the 
true founder of the science of glossography. He was the first 
to systematise and to trace the origin and affiliations of the 
various alphabetical characters; and his researches in the 
history of the palaeography of the Semitic family may be said 
to have exhausted the subject. Nevertheless, he has himself 

* Biogr. Univ., VI., 399. 


written very little; but he communicated freely to others the 
fruits of his researches; and tjiere are few of the philologers 
of his time who have not confessed their obligations to him. 
Michaclis, Sclilotzer, Gatterer, and almost every other con- 
lemporary German scholar of note, have freely acknowledged 
both the value of his communications and the generous and 
liberal s[)irit in which they were imparted.^ 

John David Michaelist (1717 — 91) is so well known in 
these countries by his contributions to Biblical literature J 
that little can be necessary beyond the mention of his name. 
His grammar of the Hebrew, Chaldec, Syriac, and Arabic 
languages, sufficiently attest his abilities as an Orientalist ; 
and, as regards that particular family of languages, his 
philological views are generally solid and judicious. But I 
am unable to discover what were his attainments in modern 
languages ; and to the general science of comparative 
philology he cannot be said to have rendered any important 
original contribution. 

The Cathohc Missionaries of Germany, although of course 
less numerous than their brethren of Italy and the Spanish 
Peninsula, have contributed their share to the common stock 
of linguistic science. Many of the Jesuit Missionaries 
of Central and Southern America ; — for example, Fathers 
Richter, Fritz, Grebraer, and Widmaun — whose papers are the 
foundation of Humboldt's Essay in the Mithridates, were of 
German origin. Father Dobritzhofer, whose interesting account 
of the Abipoues has been translated into English §, under 
Southey's advice and superintendence, was a native of 
Austria ; and the learned Sanscrit scholar, Father Paulinus 
de Saucto Bartholomeo, (although less known under his 
German name, Jolm Philip Werdin) was an Austrian 
Carmelite, and served for above fourteen years in the Indian 
missions of his order. 

A German philanthropist of a different class. Count Leopold 
von Berc'itold (173(S — 1809) the Howard of Germany, deserves 
to be named, not merely for his devoted services to the cause 

* Biog. Univ., p. 402. 

\ Denina (Prusse Litteraire, III., p. 31) observes that the name 
of Michaelis would appear to have had the profession of Oriental 
literature as its peculiar inheritance. 

X For a complete enumeration of his works see Meusel's Gelehrte 
Deutschland, II., 363. 

§ 3 vul.s., 8vo., London, 1827. 


of Iiumaiiity throughout the world, but for his remarkable 
acqiiiremeiits as a linguist. He spoke fluently eight European 
languages ; * and, what is more rare, wrote and published 
in the greater number of them, tracts upon the great subject 
to which he dedicated his life. He died, at a very advanced 
age, of the plague, and has long been honoured as a martyr 
in the cause of philanthropy; but he has left no notable 
work behind 

Very different the career of the great author of the Mithri- 
dates, John Cliristopher Adelung, wlio lived almost exclu- 
sively for learning. He was born in 1734, at Spantekow in 
Pomerania. In 1759, he was appointed to a professorship 
at Erfurt ; but he exchanged it, after a few years, for a place 
at Leipsic, where he continued to reside for a long series of 
years. Although habitually of a gay and cheerful disposition, 
and a most agreeable member of society, he was one of the most 
assiduous students upon record, devoting as a rule no less than 
fourteen hours a day to his literary occupations.f His services 
to his native language are still gratefully acknowledged by every 
German etymologist, and his Dictionary, (although since much 
improved by Voss and Campe,)has been declared as great a boon 
to Germany, as the united labours of the Academy had 
been able to offer to France. Adelung's personal reputation 
as a linguist was exceedingly high, but his fame with pos- 
terity must rest on his great work, the Mithridates, which 
I have already briefly described, Tlie very origination of 
such a work, or at least the undertaking it upon the 
scale on which he has carried it out, would have made 
the reputation of an ordinary man. In the touching pre- 
face of the first volume, (the only one which Adelung 
lived to see published,) he describes it as "the youngest 
and probably the last child of his muse ;" and confesses 
that " he has nurtured, dressed, and cherished it, with all 
the tenderness which it is commonly the lot of the youngest 
child to enjoy." % It is indeed a W'Ork of extraordinary 
labour, and, although from the manner in which its materials 
were sui)plied, necessarily incomplete and even inaccurate in its 
details, a work of extraordinary ability. The first volume 
alone (containing the languages of Asia, and published in ISUO,) 
is exclusively Adelung's. Of the second, only a hundred and fifty 
pages had been printed when the venerable author died in his 
seventy-third year. These printed sheets, and the papers which 

* Biographic Universelle, LVIII., p. 4. 

t Feller, I., G6. See also Bunsen, III,, 42. 

% Vol. I., p. XX. 


he liaJ collecled for tlie subsequent volumes, he bequeathed 
to Dr. Severinus Vater, professor of theology at Konigsberg, 
under whose editorship, with assistance from several friends, 
(and especially from the lamented AVilliam von Humboldt 
and Frederic Adelung,) the second volume, which comprises 
the languages of Europe with all their ramifications, appeared 
in 1809. The third, on the languages of Africa, and of 
America, (for which last the work is indebted to Humboldt,) 
appeared, in j^arts, between 1812 and 1816; and a sup- 
j)lementary volume, containing additions to the earlier portions 
of the work, by Humboldt, Frederic Adelung, and Yaier 
himself, was published in 1817. It is impossible to over- 
state the importance and value of this great linguistic re- 
pertory. The arrangement of the work is strictly scientific, 
according to the views then current. The geographical distri- 
bution, the origin and history, and the general structural pecu- 
liarities of each, not only of the great families, but of the 
individual languages, and in many cases even of the local 
dialects, are carefully, though briefly described. The specimen 
Pater- Noster in each languageand dialect, iscritically examined, 
and its vocabulary explained. To each language, too, is prefixed 
a catalogue of the chief philological or etymological works 
which ^ treat of its peculiarities; and thus abundant suggestions 
are su{)plied for the prosecution of more minute researches 
into its nature and history. And for the most part, all this 
is executed with so much simplicity and clearness, with so 
true a perception of the real points of difficulty in each lan- 
guage, and with so almost instinctive a power of discriminat- 
ing between those peculiarities in each which require s])ecial 
explanation, and those less abnormal qualities which a philo- 
sophical linguist will easily infer from the principles of general 
grammar, or from a consideration of the common characteristics 
of the family to which it belongs, that one may leari^ as much 
of the real character of a language, in a few hours, from the 
few suggestive pages the Mithridates, as from the tedious ajid 
complici^ted details of its professional grammarians. 

Adelung's associate in the Mithridates and its continuator. 
Dr. Severinus Vater, was born at Altenburg, in 1771; 
he studied at Jena and Halle, in both of which universities 
he afterwards held appointments as professor ; at Jena, as 
extraordinary l^rofessor of Theology in 179(5, and at Halle, as 
Profesisor of Oriental Languages m 1800. Thence he was 
transferred, in 1809, to Konigsberg in the capacity of Profes- 
sor of Tiieology and Librarian ; but he returned, in 1820, to 


Halle, where he continued to reside till his death, in 1826. 
Although Vater was by no means a very scientific linguist,* 
the importance of his contrilmtions to the study of languages 
cannot be too highly estimated. Besides the large shar?which 
he had in the preparation of the Mithridates (the last three 
volumes of which were edited by him,) he also wrote well on 
the grammar of the Hebrew, Polish, Russian, and German 
languages. Nevertheless, his reputation is rather that of a 
scholar than of a linguist. 

A few years after the author of the Mithridates appears the 
celebrated Peter Simon Pallas, to whom we are indebted for 
the great *' Comparative Vocabulary" already described. He 
was born at BerHn in 1741, and his early studies were mainly 
directed to natural philosophy, which he seems to have culti- 
vated in all its branches. His reputation as a naturalist 
procured for him, in 1767, an invitation from Catherine II. 
of Russia, to exchange a distinguished position which he had* 
obtained at the Hague for a professorship in the Academy of 
St. Petersburg. His arrival in that capital occurred just at 
the time of the departure of the celebrated scientific expedition 
to Siberia for the purjjose of observing the transit of Venus ; 
and, as their mission also embraced the geography and natural 
history of Siberia, Pallas gladly accepted an nivitation to 
accompany them. They set out in June, 1768, and after 
exploring the vast plains of European Russia, the borders of 
Calmuck Tartary, and the shores of the Caspian, they crossed 
the Ural Mountains, examined the celebrated mines of Cath- 
erinenberg, proceeded to Tobolsk, the capital of Siberia, and 
penetrated across the mountains to the Chinese frontier, 
whence Pallas returned by the route of Astrakan and the Cau- 
casus to St. Petersburg. He reached that city in July, 17 74, 
with broken health, and hair prematurely whitened by'sickiiess' 
and fatigue. He resumed his place in the Academy ; and was 
rewarded by the Empress with many distinctions and lucrative 
employments, one of which was the charge of instructing the 
young grand-dukes, Alexander and Constantine. It was 
during these years that he devoted himself to the compilation 
ofthe focahularia Comparativa, which comprises two hundred 
and one languages; but, in 1795, he returned to the Crimea, 
(where he had obtained an extensive gift of territory from the 
Empress) for the purpose of recruiting his health and pursuing 
his researches. After a residence there of fifteen years, he 

• Bunsen's «• Christianity and Mankind/' III,, p. 44. 


returiKMl to Berlin in 1810, where he died in the follov^ing 
year. It will be seen, therefore, that, prodigious as were his 
acquirements in that department, the study of languages was 
but a subordinate pursuit of this extraordinary man. His 
fame is mainly due to his researches in science. It is to him 
that we owe the reduction of the astrojiomical observations of 
tiie expedition of 1708; and Cuvier gives him tiie credit of 
completely renewing the science of geology, and of almost 
entirely re-constructing that of natural history. It is difficult, 
nevertheless,* to arrive at an exact conclusion as to the sltare 
which lie personally took in the compilation of the Vocabulary; 
and still more so, as to his powers as a speaker of foreign lan- 
guages ; although it is clear that his habits of life as a traveller 
and scientific explorer, not only facilitated, but even directly ne- 
cessitated for him, the exercise of that faculty,to afar greater de- 
gree than can be supposed in the case of most of the older philo- 

The career of Pallas bears a very remarkable resemblance to 
that of a more modern scholar, also a native of Berlin, Julius 
Henry Klaproth. He was the son of the celebrated chemist 
of that name, and was born in 1785. Although destined by 
his father to follow his own profession, a chance sight of the 
collection of Chinese books in the Royal Library at Berlin, 
irrevocably decided the direction of his studies. With the aid 
of the imperfect dictionary of Mentzel and Pere Diaz, he suc- 
ceeded in learning without a master that most difficult lan- 
guage ; and, though he complied with his fatlier\s desire, so 
far as to pursue with success the preparatory studies of the 
medical profession, he never formally embraced it. After a 
time he gave his undivided attention to Oriental studies ; and, 
in 1802, establislied, at Dresden, the Asiatisches Magazin. 
Like so many of his countrymen, he accepted service in Rus- 
sia, at the invitation of Count Potocki, who knew him at 
Berlin, ; and he was a member of the half-scientihc, half-poli- 
tical, mission to Pekin, in 1805, under that eminent scholar 
and diplomatist. He withdrew, however, from the main body 
of this expedition, in order to be able to pursue his scientific 
researches more unrestrainedly ; and, after traversing eighteen 
hundred leagues in the space of twenty months, in the course 
of which he passed in review all the motley races of that in- 
hospitable region, Samoiedes, Piinis, Tartars, Monguls, Pas- 
kirs, Dzoungars, Tungooses, &c., he returned to St. Peters- 

* See preface of the Vocabularia Comparativa. Also Biographie 
L'niversolle, XXXII., p. 440. 


burg, in 1806, with a vaj^t collection of notes on the Chinese, 
Alanlchu, Mongul, and Japanese* languages. With a similar 
object, he was soon afterwards sent by the Academy, in Sep- 
tember, ISO/, to collect information on the languages of the 
Caucasus, a journey of exceeding difficulty and privation, in 
which he spent nearly three years. On his return to St. 
Petersburg, he obtained permission to go to Berlin for the 
purpose of completing the necessary engravings for his work ; 
and he availed himself of this opportunity to withdraw alto- 
gether from the Russian service, although with the forfeiture 
of all his titles and honours. After a brief sojourn in Italy, 
he fixed his residence in Paris. To him i\\Q Socu'fe Asiatlqae 
may be said to owe its origin ; and he acted, almost up to his 
death in 1835, as the chief editor of its journal — the well- 
known Journal Asiaiiqite. In Paris, also, he published his 
Asia Pol^glotta, and " New Mithridates.'^ Klaproth, perhaps, 
does not deserve, in any one of the languages which he culti- 
vated, the character of a very deep scholar; but he was ac- 
quainted with a large number: with Chinese, Mongol, Maut- 
chu, and Japanese, also with Sanscrit, Armenian, Persian, and 
Georgian ;t he was of course perfectly familiar with German, 
Russian, Prencli, and probably with others of the European 

The emiuent historical successes of Berthold GeorgeNiebuhr, 
(born at Copenhagen in 1770), have so completely eclipsed 
the memory of all his other great qualities, that perhaps the 
reader will not be prepared to tind that in the department of 
languages his attainments were of the highest rank. His 
father, Carsten jMiebuhr, the learned Eastern traveller, had 
destined him to pursue his own career ; but the delicacy of 
the youth's constitution, and other circumstances, forced his 
fatlier to abandon the idea, and saved young Niebuhr for the 
far more important studies to which his own tastes attracted 
him. His history, both literary and political, is too recent 
and too well known to require any formal notice. It will be 
enough for our purpose to transcribe from his life an ex- 
tremely interesting letter from his father, which bears upon 
the particular subject of the present inquiry. It is dated De- 
cember, 1807, when Niebuhr was little more than thirty years 

• The Japanese he learned from a shipwrecked native of Japan 
wlioni he met at Irkutsch ; probably the same mentioned in 
" Golownin's Narrative." 

t Biogr. Univ., LXVIIL, 532. 


of agp. " My son has gone to Memel," writes the elder 
Niebuhr, " with the commissariat of the army. When he 
found lie shoukl probably have to go lo Riga, he began forth- 
with to learn Russian. Let us just reckon how many languages 
he knows already. He was only two years old when we came 
to Meldorf, so that we must consider, 1 st, German, as his 
mother tongue. He learned at school, 2nd, Latin; 3rd, 
Greek; 4th, Hebrew; and, besides in Meldorf he learned, 
5th, Danish ; 6th, English ; 7th, French ; 8th, Itahan; but 
only so far as to be able to read a book in these languages; 
some books from a vessel wrecked on the coast induced him 
to learn, 9th, Portuguese; 10, Spanish; of Arabic he did not 
know much at home, because I had lost my lexicon and could 
not quickly replace it ; in Kiel and Copenhagen he had oppor- 
tunities of practice in s])eaking and writing French, English, 
and Danish; in Copenliagen he learned, 11th, Persian, of 
Count Ludul})h, the Austrian minister, who was born at Con- 
stantinople, and whose father was an acquaintance of mine ; 
and 1 2th, Arabic, he taught himself; in Holland he learned, 
13th, Dutch ; and again, in Copenhagen, 14th, Swedish, and 
a httle Icelandic; at Memel, 15th, Russian; 16th, Slavonic; 
17th, Polish; 18th, Bohemian; and, lUih, lllyrian. With the 
addition of Low German, this makes in all twenty languages.^'* 
As this letter does not enter into the history of Niebuhr's 
later studies, I inquired of his friend, the Chevalier Bunsen, 
whether he had continued to cultivate the faculty thus early 
developed. I received from him the following interesting state- 
ment: — " Niebuhr," he says, "ought not to be ranked among 
Lmgmsts, in contradistinction with Philologers. Language 
had no special interest for him, beyond what it alfords in 
connection with history and literature. His proficiency in 
languages was, however, very great, in consequence of his early 
and constant application to history, and his matchless memori/, 
I have spoken of both in my Memoir on Niebuhr, in the 
German and English edition of Niebuhr's Letters and Life ; 
it is appended to the 2nd volume of both editions. I think, 
it is somewhere stated how many languages he knew at an 
early age. What I know is, that besides Greek and Lalhi, 
he learned early to read and write Arabic ; Hebrew he had also 
learned, but neglected afterwards ; Russian and Slavonic 
he learned (to read only,) in the years 1808,1810. He wrote 
well English, French, and xtalian ; and read Spanish, and 

* Life and Letters of Niebuhr, L p. 27-8. 


Portuguese. Danish, he wrote as well as his mother tongue, 
German, and he understood Swedish. In short, he would 
learn with the greatest case any language which led him to 
the knowledge of historical truth, when occujiied with the 
subject; but language, as such, had no charm for him." 

Among the scholars who assisted Adeluiig and Vater in the 
compilation of the Mithriclates, by far the most distinguisiied 
w;is the illustrious Charles William von Humboldt. He was 
born at Potsdam, in 1767, and received his preliminary 
education at Berlin. His university studies were made partly 
at Gottiiigen, partly at Jena, where he formed theacciuaiiitance 
and friendship of Goethe, Schiller, Wieland, and, above all, 
of Herder, from whose well-known tastes it is highly jjrobable 
that Humboldt's mind received the strong philological bias 
which it exhibited during his life. Unlike most of the scholars 
who preceded him in this career, however, Humboldt's life 
was spent amid the bustle and itUrigue of diplomatical pursuits. 
He was sent to Rome as Prussian Minister in 180:2, and, from 
that period until 1819, he was almost uniformly employed in 
this and similar public services. Prom his return to Berlin, 
in 1819, he lived almost entirely for science, till his death, 
which occurred at Tegel, near Berlin, in 1835. Humboldt 
is, in truth, the author of that portion of the third volume of 
the Mithridaics which treats of the languages of the two 
continents of America; and, although a great part of its 
materials were derived from the labours of others — from the 
memoirs, published and unpublished, of the missionaries, from 
the works and MSS. of Padre Hervaz, and other similar 
sources — yet no one can read any single article in the volume 
without perceiving that Humboldt had made himself thoroughly 
master of the subject; and that, especially in its bearings upon 
the general science of j)hilology, or the great question of the 
unity of languages and its kindred ethnological problems, he 
had not only exhausted all the learning of his predecessors, 
but had successfully applied to it all the powers of his own 
comprehensive and original genius. To the consideration, 
too, of this numerous family of languages he brought a mind 
stored with the knowledge of all the other great families both 
of the East and of the West; and although it is not easy to 
say what his success in speaking languages may have been, it 
is impossible to doubt either the variety or the solidity of his 
attainments both as a scieiuitic and as a practical linguist. 
But Humboldt's place with posterity must be that of a pliilo- 
loger rather than of a linguist. His Essay on the '' Diversity 


of the Formation of Human Langunge, and its Influence 
on the Intellectual Development of Mankind/' published 
})Obthumously in 1836, as an Introduction to his Analysis of 
the Kawi Language, is a work of extraordinary learning and 
research, as well as of profound and original thought ; analysing 
all the successive varieties of grammatical structure which 
characterize the several classes of language in their various 
jstages of structural development, from the naked simplicity of 
Chinese up to th.e minute and elaborate inflexional variety of 
the Sanscritic family. M. Bunsen describes this wonderful 
work as " the Calculus Sublimis of linguistic theory ,'' and 
declares that " it places AA'illiam von Humboldt's name by 
the side of that of Leibnitz in universal comparative ethnolo- 
gical philology."* 

The school of Humboldt iai Germany has supplied a long 
series of distinguislied names to philological literature, begin- 
ning with Frederic von Schlegel, (whose Essay " On the 
Language and Literature of the Hindoos, 1808," opened an 
entirely new view of the science of comparative philology), 
and continued, through Schlegel's brotiier Augustu?, Rask, 
T3opp, Grimm, Lepsius, Pott, Pfizmaier, Hammer-Purgstall 
(the so-called "Lily of Ten Tongues)", Sauerwein, Diez, 
Poehtlingk, and the lamented Castreii, down to Bunsen, and 
Ids learned fellow-labourers. Max Midler, Paul Boetticher, 
Aufrecht, and others. t For most of those, as fur Schlegel, 
the Sanscrit family of languages has been the great centre of 
exploration, or at least the chief standard of comparison ; and 
Bopp, in his wonderful work, the "Comparative Grammar of 
the Sanscrit, Zend, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, old Slavonic, 
Gothic, and German Languages,"^ has almost exhausted this 
part of the inquiry. Others (still, however, with the same 
general view) have devoted themselves to other families, as 
Lepsius to the Egyptian, Piask to the Scythian, Boehthingk 
to tlie Tartar,§ Grimin to the Teutonic, Diez to the Eomanic, 

* " Chiistianity and Mankind," III., p. 60. 

t As a mei-e linguist I should name Dr. Pruner, a native of Ba- 
varia, but long a re.^ident of Egypt, where he was physician of the 
late Pasha. M. d'Abbadie states that Dr. Pruner is reputed to 
speak twelve languages, Persian, Turi<ish, Arabic, Greek, Latin, 
German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Danish. 

% This Grammar lias appeared in successive sections, commencing 
ill 1833, and only completed in 1852. 

§ Klaproth, the great explorer of the Caucasian languages, does 
not properly belong to Schlegel's school, as he comparatively over- 


aii(] Caefreii (o the Finnic. Other?, in fine, as Bunsen in hi 
most conij)relieiisive work, "Outlines of the Philosophy of 
Universal History applied to L;inij;uage," (the third volume of 
l\is "Christianity and Mankind") have digested the entire 
suhjecl, and applied the researches of all to the solution of the 
great problem of the science. Some of those whom I have 
named rather resembled the ancient heroes of romance and 
adventure, than the conmion race of quiet everyday scholars. 
The journeys of Rask, Klaproth, and Lepsius, were not only 
full of danger, but often attended with exceeding privation ; 
and Alexander Castren of Helsingfors was literally a martyr of 
the science. This enthusiastic student,* although a man of 
extremely delicate constitution, " left his study, travelled for 
years alone in his sledge through the snowy deserts of Siberia ; 
coasted along the borders of the Polar Se.i; lived for whole 
winters in caves of ice, or in the smoky huts of greasy 
Sanioieiies ; then braved tiie sand-clouds of Mongolia; [)asse(l 
the Baikal; and returned from the frontiers of China to his 
duties as Professor at IJelsingfors, to die after he had given to 
the world but a few specimens of his treasures."t 

Hask and M. Bunsen, even as linguists, deserve to be more 
specially commemorated. 

The former, who was born in 17S7 at Brennekilde, in the 
island of Funen, traversed, in the course of the adventurous 
journey already alluded to, the Eastern provinces of llussia, 
Persia, India, Malacca, and the island of Ceylon, and penetrated 
into the interior of Africa. In all the countries which he 
visited he made himself acquainted with the various languages 
which prevai.ed ; so that besides the many languages of his 
native TfUtonic family, those of the Scandinavian, Finnic, and 
Sclavonic stock, the principal cultivated European languages, 
and the learned languages (including those of the Bible), he 
Was also familiar with Sanscrit in all its branches ; and is 
justly described as the first w ho opened the way to "a real 

looks the great principle of Schlcgcl— the grammatical structure of 

• Castren was an accomplished writer both in his own language 
and in German, and a poet of much merit. His Swedish version of 
the old I-'innic Snga " Kulevahx," is perhaps deserving of notice as 
having fui nishcd in its metre the model of the new English measure 
adopted l)v Lon>ifello\v in his recent poem "Hiawatha." Castren's 
birth-place is close to Uleaborg, the spot resorted to commonly by 
travellers who desire to witness the phenomenon of " the Midnight 

+ Bunsen, III , p. '274. 


grammatical knowledge of Zend."* M. Bunsen's great work 
exhibits a knowledge of the structural analysis of a prodigious 
number of languages, from almost every family. As a master 
of the learned languages, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and (though 
he has cultivated these less), Arabic and Persian, he has few 
superiors. lie speaks and writes with equal facility Latin, 
German,English, French, and Italian, all with singular elegance 
and purity ; he speaks besides Dutch and Danish ; he reads 
Swedish, Icelandic, and the other old German languages, 
Spunish, Portuguese, and Romaic; and he has also studied many 
of the less known languages, as Chinese, Basqiie, Finnic, 
and Welsh, together with several of the African and North 
American languages, but chiefly with a view to their gram- 
matical structure, and without any idea of learning to read 

Nevertheless, willi all the linguistic learning which they 
undoubtedly possess, neither Humboldt nor the other members 
of his distinguished school fall properly within the scope of 
this Memoir. \^ itli all of them, even those who were 
themselves accomplished linguists, the knowledge of lan- 
guages, (and especially of their vocabularies), is a subordinate 
object. They have never proposed the study to themselves, 
for its own sake, but only as an instrument of philosophical 
inquiry. It might almost be said, indeed, that by tlie reaction 
which this school has created against the old system of etymo- 
logical, andin favourof the structural, comparison of languages, 
a positive discouragement has been given to the exact or 
extensive study of their vocabularies. Pliilologers, as a class, 
have a decided dis|)osition to look down ujjon, and even to 
depreciate, the pursuit of linguists. AVith the former, the 
knowledge of the words of a language is a very minor con- 
sideration in comparison with its inflexions, and still more its 
laws of transposition (Lautverschiebung) ; Professor Schott of 
Berlin plainly avows that " a limited knowledge of languages 
is sufticient for settling the general questions as to their 
common origin ;"t and beyond a catalogue of a certain number 
of words for the purpose of a comparative vocabulary, there is 
a manifest tendency on the part of many, to regard all fur- 
ther concern about the words of a language as old-fashioned 
and puerile. It it some consolation to the admirers of the 
old school to know, that, from time to time, learned philo- 

* Bunsen, III., j). 53. 
t Ibid, 270. 


logers have been roughly taken to task for the presumption 
Miih which they have theorized about knguages of whose 
vocabuhiry they are ignorant; and it is difficult not to regard 
the unsparing and often very amusing exposures of Professor 
Scholt's blunders which occur in the long controversy that he 
has had with Boehthingk, Mr. Caldwell's recent strictures* 
upon the Indian learning of Professor Max Miiller, or 
Stanislaus Julien's still fiercer onslaught on M. Panthier, in 
tiie Journal Asiaiique^-\ as a sort of retributive oflering to the 
offended Genius of neglected Etymology. 

I shall not delay upon the Biblical linguists of Germany 
as Hug, Jahn, Scliott, Windischmann, "Vullers, &c., among 
Catholics, or the rival schools of liosenmiiller, Tholuck, 
Evvald, Gesenius, Piirsr, Beer, De Lagarde, &c. £xtensive| as is 
the range of the attainments of these distinguished men in the 
languages of the Bible, and their literature, this accomplish- 
ment has now become so universal among German J3iblical 
scholars, that it has almost ceased to be regarded as a title to 
distinction. Its very njasters are lost in the crowd of 
eminent men who have grown up on all sides around him. 

Among the scholars of modern Hungary there are a few 
names which deserve to be mentioned, Sajnovitz's work on 
the common origin of the Magyar and Lapp languages, though 
written in 177 U, long before the science of Comparative 
Philology had been reduced to its present form, has obtained 
the praise of much learning and ingenuity. Gyarmathi, who 
wrote somewhat later on the affinity of the Magyar and 
Finnic languages (1799) is admitted by M. Bunsen § 
to "deserve a very high rank among the founders of that 
science." But neither of these authors can,be considered as a 
linguist. Father l^obrowtky, of whom 1 shall speak else- 
where, although born in Hungary, cannot j)roj)erly be consi- 
dered as a Hungarian. Kazinczy, Kisfaludy, and their followers, 
have confined themselves almost entirely to the cultiva- 
tion of their own native language, or at least to the ethuolo- 
gical affinities which it involves. 

* In his " Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or Soutli-Indian 
Family of Languages." 

t The fiercest of them all is contained not in the Journal, but in 
a pamphlet which was distributed to members of the Society. 

J Dr. Paul De Lagarde, for instance, has the reputation of know- 
ing above twenty languages. 

§ Christianity and Mankind, III., 271. 


I have only discovered one linguist of modern Hungary 
mIioui I can consider entitled to a special notice, but the 
singular and almost mysterious interest which attaches to his 
name may in some measure compensate for the comparative 
solitude in which it is found. 

I allude to the celebrated Magyar pilgrim and pliilologer, 
Csoma de KiJros. His name is written in his own language, 
Korosi Csoma Sandor ; but in the works which he has 
published (all of which are in English), it is given in the 
above form. He was born of a poor, but noble family, about 
1790, at Koios, in Transylvania; and, received a gratuitous 
education at the College of Nagy-Enycd. The leading idea 
which engrossed this enthusiastic scholar during life, was the 
discovery of the original of the Magyar race ; in search of 
which (after preparing himself for about five years, at Got- 
tengin,by the study of medicine and of the Oriental languages,) 
lie set out in 1820, on a jnlgrimageto the East, "hghtly clad, 
with a little stick in his hand, as if medittting a country walk, 
and with but a hundred florins, (about £10), in his pocket." 
The only re[iort of his progress which was received for years 
afterwards, informed his friends that he had crossed the Bal- 
kan, visited Constantinople, Alexandria, and the Arabic libra- 
ries at Cairo ; and, after traversing Egy[)t and Syria, had 
arrived at Teheran. Here, on hearing a few words of the 
Tibetan language, he was struck by their resemblance to 
Magyar; and, in the hope of thus resolving his cherished 
problem, he crossed Little Bucharia to the desert of Gobi ; 
traversed many of the valleys of the Himalaya; and finally 
buried himself for four years (1827-1830), in the Buddhist 
Monastery of Kanam, deeply engaged in the study of Tibetan ; 
four months of which time he spent in a room nine feet square, 
(without once quitting it), and in a temperature below zero ! 
He quickly discovered his mistake as to the affinity of Tibe- 
tan with Magyar; but he pursued his Tibetan studies in the 
hope of obtaining in the sacred books of Tibet some light 
upon the origin of his nation ; and before his arrival at Cal- 
cutta, in 1830, he had written down no less than 40,000 
words in that language. He had hardly reached Calcutta 
when he was struck down by the mortifying discovery that the 
Tibetan books to which he had devoted so many precious years 
vera but translations from tiie Sanscrit ! Erom 1830 he resi- 
ded for several years chiefly at Calcutta, engaged in the study 
of Sanscrit and other languages, and employed in various literary 
services by the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He published in 


1834 a Tibetan and Euglisli Dictionary, and contributed many 
interesting papers to the Asiatic Journal, and the Journal of 
the Bengal Asiatic Society. In 1842, he set out afresh 
upon the great pilgrimage which he had made the object of 
his life ; and, having reached Dharjeeling on his way to Sikam 
in Tibet, he was seized by a sudden illness, which, as he re- 
fused to take medicine, rapidly carried him off. This strange, 
thougli highly gifted man, had studied in the course of his 
adventurous life, seventeen or eighteen languages, in several of 
which he was a proficient.* 

The career of this enthusiastic Magyar resembles in many 
respects that of Castren, the Danish philologer ; and in nothing 
more than in the devotedness with which each of them applied 
himself to the investigation of the origin of his native language 
and to the discovery of the ethnological affinities of his race. 


The names with which the catalogue of Italian and that of 
Spanish linguists open, find a worthy companion in the first 
name amojig the linijuists of Britain. 

With others the study of languages, or of kindred sciences, 
formed almost the business of life. But it was not so with 
the wonder of his own and of all succeeding generations — 
the " Admirable Crichton" ; who, notwithstanding the 
universality of his reputation, became almost equally eminent 
in each particular study, as any of those who devoted all their 
powers to that single pursuit. 

James Crichton was born in 1561, in Scotland. The precise 
])lace of his birth is uncertain, but he was the son of Robert 
Crichton of Eliock, Lord Advocate of James VI. He was 
educated at St. Andrew^s. The chief theatres of his attainments, 
however, were Erance and Italy. There is not an accomplish- 
ment which he did not possess in its greatest perfection — from 
the most abstruse departments of scholarship, philosophy, and 
divinity, down to the mere physical gifts and graces of the 
musician, the athlete, the swordsman, and the cavalier. His 
memory was a prodigy both of quickness and of tenacity. He 
could repeat verbatim, after a single hearing, the longest and 
most involved discourse.^ Many of the details which are told 

* Knight's Cyclopadia of Biography, I. 450-3. 
f Cancellieri, Sugli Uomini di gran Memoria, e sugli Uomini 
smemorati, p. 60-1. 


of him are doubtless exaggerated and perhaps legendary ; but 
Mr. Patrick Frazer Tytler* has shown that the substance of 
his history, prodigious as it seems, is perfectly reliable. As 
regards the particular subject of our presentinquiry, one account 
states that, when he was but sixteen years old, he spoke ten 
languages. Another informs us that, at the age of twenty, 
the number of languages of which he was master exactly equalled 
the number of his years. But the most tangible data which 
we possess are drawn from his celebrated 1,hesis in the University 
of Paris, in which he undertook to dispute in any of twelve 
languages — Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, 
Italian, French, English, German, Flemish, and Slavonic. I 
am inclined to beheve that Crichton's acquirements extended 
at least so far as this. It might seem that a vague challenge 
to dispute in any one of a number of foreign tongues was aa 
empty and unsubstantial boast, and a mere exhibition of vanity, 
perfectly safe from the danger of exposure. But it is clear 
that Crichton's challenge was not so unpractical as this. He 
not only specified the languages of his challenge, but there is 
hardly one of those that he selected which was not represented in 
the University of Paris at the time, not only suffijiently to 
test the proficiency of the daring disputant, but to secure his 
ignominious exposure, if there were grounds to suspect him of 
charlatanism or imposture. Unhappily, however, the promise 
of a youth so brilliant was cut short by an early death, in 15 S3, 
at the age of twenty-two years. Nor did Crichton leave behind 
him any work by which posterity might test the reality of his 
acquirements, except a few Latin verses printed by his friend, 
Aldus Manutius, on whose generous patronage, with all his 
accomplishments, he had been dependent for the means of 
subsistence during one of the most brilliant periods of his 

A few years Crichton's senior in point of time, altliough, 
from the precociousness of Crichton^s genius, his junior in 
reputation, was Lancelot Andrews, Bishop of Winchester. 
He was born in London in 1555, and, after a distinguished 
career in the university, rose, through a long course of ecclesias- 
tical preferments, to the see of Winchester. Beyond the 
general praises of his scholarship in which all his biographers 
indulge, few particulars are preserved respecting his attainments. 
Among his contemporaries he was regarded as a prodigy. 

• Life of James Crichton of Cluny, commonly called " the 
Admirable Crichton." Edinburgh, 1819. 


"Waiiley says'^tlmt " some tliouglithe might a] most have served 
as interpreter-general at the confusion of tongues;" and even 
the more prosaic Chalmers attributes to him a profound 
knowledge of the " chief Oriental tongues, Greek, Latin, and 
many modern languages."t 

John Gregory, who was born at Agmondesham in Bucking- 
hamshire, in the year 1607, would probably have far surpassed 
Andrews as a linguist, had he not been cut off prematurely 
before he had completed his thirtieth year. He was a youth 
of unexampled industry and perseverance, devoting sixteen 
hours of the twenty-four to his favourite studies. Even at the 
early age at which he died he had mastered not only the Oriejital 
and classical languages, but also French, Italian, and Spanish, 
and, what was far more remarkable in his day, his ancestral 
Anglo-Saxon. But he died in the very blossom of his promise, 
in 1646. 

These, however, must be regarded as exceptional cases The 
study of languages, it must be confessed, occupied at this 
period but little of public attention in England. It holds a 
very subordinate place in the great sclieme of Bacon's 
" Advancement of Learning." In the model Republic of his 
" New Atlantis" only tour languages appear, " ancient Hebrew, 
ancient Greek, good Latin of the School, and Spanish."]: 
Gregory's contemporaries, the brothers John and Thomas 
Greaves, though both distinguished Persian and Arabic 
scholars, never made a name in other languages. Notwithstand 
ing the praise which Chirendon bestows on Selden's " stupen- 
dous learning in all kinds and 171 all lanfjuages,"^ it is certain 
that the range of his languages was very limited. So, 
also, what Hallam says of Hugh Broughton as a man " deep 
in Jewish erudition," || must be understood rather of the 
literature than of the languages of the East; and although 
Hugh Broughton's namesake, Richard, (one of the missionary 
priests in England in the beginning of the seventeenth century, 
and an antiquarian of considerable merit, mentioned by Dodd^) 
was a learned Hebraist, there is no evidence of his having 
gone farther in these studies. 

• Wonders of the Little World, p. 286. 

t II., p. 223. 

% "New Atlantis." Bacon's Works, 11., 84. 

§ Life of Edward Lord Clarendon, I., p. 35. 

II Literary History, II., 85. 

<f Church History, Hi., 87. 


Indeed, strange as it may at fir:«t sight apjjcar, tlie first 
epoch in English history really ])rolific in eminent scholars is 
the stormy period of the great Civil War. It is not a little 
remarkable that the most creditable fruit of English scholar- 
ship, Walton's Polyglot Bible, was matured, if not brought to 
light, under the Republic. 

The men who were engaged in this work, however, were, 
for the most part, merely book-scholars. Edmund Castell, 
bornat Ilalley, in Cambridgeshire, in 1606, authorofthe Hepta- 
glot Lexicon, which formed the comj)anion or supplement of 
Walton's Bible, is admitted to have been one of the most pro- 
found Orientalists of his day. This Lexicon comprises seven 
Oriental languages, Hebrew, Chaldee, Samaritan, Syriac, Ethi- 
oj)ic, Arabic, and Persian ; and, if we add to these the classi- 
cal languages, we shall find Castell's attainments to huve been 
little inferior to those of any linguist before his time; even 
without reckoning whatever modern languages he may be 
supposed to have known. Castell, nevertheless, is one of the 
most painful examples of neglected scholarship in all literary 
history. Disraeli tiuly says that he more than devoted his life 
to his Lexicon Heptaglotton * His own Appeal to Charles the 
Second, if less noble and dignified than Johnson's celebrated 
])reface to the Dictionary, is yet one of the most touching do- 
cuments on record. He laments the" seventeen years during 
which he devoted sixteen or eighteen hours a day to his labour. 
He declares that he had expeiuled his whole inheritance 
(above twelve thousand pounds), upon the work ; and that he 
spent his health and eyesight as well as his fortune, upon a 
thankless task." The copies of his Lexicon remained unsold 
upon his hands; and. out of the whole five hundred copies 
which he left at his death, hardly one complete copy escaped 
destruction by damp and vermin. " Tiie whole load of learned 
rags sold for seven pounds!"t 

1 cannot find that either Castell or his friend (though by no 
means his equal as a linguist), Brian Walton possessed any 
remarkable faculty in sj)eaknig even the languages with 
which they were most familiar. 

Another of Walton's associates in the compilation of the 
Polyglot, as well as in other learned undertakings, Edward 
Pocock (born at Oxford in 1604,) appears to have given more 
attention to the accomplishment of speaking foreign languages. 

• Disraeli's Miscellanies, p. 131. 
t Ibid. 


In addition to Latin, Greek, French, and i)robably Italian, he 
was well versed in Hebrew, Sjriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic. 
During a residence of six years at Aleppo, as British chaplain, 
(1600-6), he had the advantage of receiving instructions from 
a native doctor, in the languai^e and literature of Arabia ; and 
he engaged an Arab servant for the sole purpose of enjoying 
the opportunity of sj)eaking the language."^ In a second jour- 
ney to the East, undertaken a few years later, under the patro- 
nage of Laud, he extended his acquaintance with these langua- 
ges. Two of Pocock's sons, Edward and Thomas, attained a 
certain eminence in the same pursuit ; but neither of them can 
be said to have approached the fame of their father. 

The mention of Arabian literature suggests the distinguished 
names of Simon Ockley, the earliest Englisli historian of Ma- 
hometanism, and of George Sale, the first English translator 
of its sacred book. Both were in their time Orientalists of 
high character; but both of (hem appear to have applied 
chiefly to Arabic, Persian, and Turkisli, rather than to the 
Biblical languages Both, too, may be cited among the ex- 
amples of unsuccessful scholarship. It was in a debtor's pri- 
son at Cambridge that Ockley found leisure for the completion 
of his great History of the Saracens; and it is told of the 
learned translator of the Koran, that too often, when he quit- 
ted his studies, he wanted a change of linen, and frequently 
wandered in the streets in search of some compassionate friend 
who might supj)ly him with the meal of the day If 

Another scholar of high repute at the same period, is Sa- 
muel Clarke. He was born at Brackley, in jSortliamptonshire, in 
1623, and was a student at Merton College, Oxford, when 
the parliamentary commission undertook the reform of the 
University. The general report of the period represents him 
as a very profound and accomplished linguist; but the oulj 
direct evidence which remains of the extent of his powers, is 
the fact that he assisted Walton in the p eparation of his Poly- 
glot Bible, and also Castell in the composition of his Heptaglot 
Lexicon. He died in 1669. 

Early in the same century was born John Wilkins, another 
linguist of some pretensions. Perhaps, however, he is better 
known by the efi'orts which he made to recommend that ideal 
project for a Universal Language which has occupied the thoughts 
of so many learned enthujiiasts since his time, than by his own 
positive and practical attainments; althougii lie published aCol- 

• Rose's Biocrrapl.'ical Dictionary, XI , IJ6. 
t Disraeli's Miscellanies, p. 131, 


lection of Pater Nosters which possesses no inconsiderable ])hilo- 
logical merit. He was born in 1614, at Fawsley, in North- 
amptonshire ; and at the early age of thirteen, he was admitted a 
scholar of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took his de- 
gree in 16.34. In the contest between the Crown and the 
Parliament, Wilkins became a warm partisan of the latter. 
He was named Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, by the 
parliamentary commission in 16-i8. Some years later, in 1656, 
/ he married Robina, sister of the Protector, and widow of 
Peter French ; the Protector having granted him a dispensa- 
tion from the statute which requires celibacy, as one of the 
conditions of the tenure of his Wardenship. In 1659, Eichard 
Cromwell promoted him to the Mastership of Trinity College, 
Cambridge; from which, liowever, he was dispossessed at the 
Restoration. But his reputation for scholarship, seemingly 
through the influence of Buckingham,* outweighed his poli- 
tical demerits ; and he was named successively Dean of Eipon 
and Bisliop of Chester, in which latter dignity he died in 

Tlie unhappy deistical writer, John Toland, born in the 
County Donegal, in Ireland, in 1669, was one of the most 
skilful linguists of his day. His birth was probably illegiti- 
mate, and he was baptized by the strange name of James Ju- 
nius, t which the ridicule of his schoolfellows caused him to 
change for that by which he is now known. During his early 
youtli, he was a member of the Catholic religion; but his daring 

• Wilkins was an eminent mathematician, and one of the first 
members of the Boyal Society. But his reputation as a humourist 
was his chief recommendation to Buckingham. His character in 
many respects resembled that of Swift. One of his witticisms is 
worth recording. After the first appearance of his well-known 
Voyage to the Moon [" Discovery of a New World, with a Discourse 
concerning the Possibility of a Voyage thither"], the eccentric 
Duchess of Newcastle jestingly remarked to him that the only defect 
in his account was that it omitted to tell where the voyagers would 
find lodging and accommodation by the way. '•' That need present 
no difficulty to your Grace," said Wilkins; " you have built so many 
castles in the air that yuu cannot be at any loss for accommodation 
on the journey." 

•{■ He published the " Pantheisticon," the most profane of all his 
works, under this pseudonym. I regret to see that an elaborate 
attempt to recall this long-forgotten book into notice, is made by Dr. 
Hermann Hettner, in his " Geschichte der Englischen Literatur von 
1660 bis 1770," the first volume of which has just been published at 
Leipsic (1856). Dr. Hettner has even been at the pains to translate 
largely from its worst profanities. 


and sceptical mind early threw off tlie salutary restraints which 
that creed imposes, although, like Gibbon, only to abandon 
Christianity itself in abandoning Catholicity. His eventful 
and erratic career does not fall within the scope of tiiis notice, 
and I will only mention that in the singular epitaph, which he 
composed for his own tomb, he speaks of himself as " lingua- 
rum plus decern sciens." In several of these ten languages, as 
he states in his memorial to the Earl of Oxford,* he spoke and 
wrote with as much fluency as in English. Toland died at 
Putney, in 1722. 

From tills period the same great blank occurs in the history 
of English scholarship, which we have observed in almost all 
the contemporary literatures of Europe. Still a few names 
may be gleaned from the general obscurity. t It is true that 
what many persons may deem the most notable pubHcation of 
the time, Chainberlayne's Collection of Pater Nosters, (1715), 
was rather a literary curiosity than a work of genuine scholar- 
ship. But there are other higher, though less known, names. 

The once notorious " Orator Henley," whom the Dunciad 
has immortalized as the 

" Preacher at once, and Zany of his age," 
was unquestionably a linguist of great acquirements. His 
" Complete Linguist," consisting of grammars of ten langua- 
ges, was published when he was but twenty-five years old ; 
and throughout his entire career, eccentric as it was, he appears 
to have persevered in the same studies. John Henley was born 
at Melton Mowbray, in 1692, and graduated in the Univer- 
sity of Cambridge. He took orders, and obtained some noto- 
riety as a preacher; but his great theatre of display was his so- 
called " Oratory," where he delivered orations or lectures on a 
variety of topics, religious, political, humorous, and even pro- 
fane. It was on one of these occasions that he drew together 
a large congregation of shoemakers, by the promise of showing 
them "the best, newest, and most expeditious way of making 
shoes," which he proceeded to illustrate by holding out a boot 
and cutting off the leg part! Henley died in 1756. J 

* Disraeli's Miscellanies, p. 110. 

f Among the crowd of bubble companies which arose about the 
time of the Revolution, was the " Royal Academies Company," which 
professed to have engaged the best masters in every department of 
knowledge, and issued 20,000 tickets at twenty shillings each. The 
fortunate holders were to be taught at the charge of the company ! 
Among the subjects of instruction languages held a high place ; and 
the scheme of education comprised Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, 
and Spanish! See Macaulay's History of England, IV., 307. 

X Disraeli has a curious chapter on Henley, Miscellanies, pp. 73-8. 


AVliat Henley was in the learned languages, the distiuguished 
etatesraan Lord Carteret, afterwards Earl of Granville, was in 
the modem. With all his brilliant qualities as a debater, aud 
all his great capacity for public nflairs, Carteret combined the 
leaniinu- and the accomplishments of a finished scholar. Swift 
said of him that " he carried away from Oxford more Greek, 
Latin, and philosophy, than became a person of his rank." He 
spoke and wrote Prench, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, 
German, and even Swedish ; and one of the first causes of the 
jealousy witli which Walpole regarded him, was the volubility 
with which he was able to hold converse in German with 
their common master, George the First. 

But Henley and Carteret stand almost alone among the 
English scholars of the early half of the seventeenth century ; 
and the first steady impulse which the study of languages 
received in England, may be chiefly traced to the attractions of 
the honourable and emolumentary service of the East India Com- 
pany. AVhat the diplomatic ambition of France in the Levant 
effected among the scholars of that countr}^ the commercial 
enterprise of the merchant princess of England achieved in 
her Indian territory ; and the splendid rewards held out to 
practical Oriental scholarship, gave an impulse to the study of 
Eastern languages on a more liberal and comprehensive 
scale."* It is in great part to this, that we are indebted for 
the splendid successes of Sir William Jones, of Marsden, of 
Colebrooke, of Craufurd, of Lumsden, of Leyden, and still 
more recently, of Colonel Vans Kennedy. 

The first of these, W'illiam Jones, was the son of a school- 
master, and was born in London, in 174L He was educated 
at Harrow, where he exhibited an early taste for languages,t 
and was especially distinguished in Greek and Latin metrical 
composition. Li 1764, he entered the University of Oxford, 
where he learned Arabic from a Syrian whose acquaintance he 

* A plan for the promotion of Oriental studies, under the patron- 
age of the Company, formed one of the many magnificent schemes of 
Warren Hastings, himself no mean linguist. Hastings consulted 
Johnson on the subject ; and it is observed as an evidence of his 
extraordinary coolness and self-possession, that his letter, acknow- 
ledging Johnson's present of Sir W. Jones's Persian Grammar, was 
written in the midst of the excitement of one of the most eventful 
days in his chequered life. See Oroker's Boswell'is Life of Johnson. 
Vill., 38-42, and Macaulay's Essays, p. 593. 

f Even during an attack of ophthalmia he did not relax in hia 
application to stutly, but u.-^ed to get some of his schoolfellows to 
read for him while he was himself disabled from reading. 


chanced to form. To this he soon after added Persian ; and 
in 1770, lie performed the very unusal feat of translating the 
history of Nadir Shah into French, In the following year 
he pnbh'shed his Persian Grammar, which took the general 
public as much by surprise, by the beauty and eloquence of 
the poetical translations which accompanied the copious 
examples that illustrated it, as it excited the aduiiration of 
scholars by the simplicity and practical good sense of its 
technical details. He soon afterwards applied himself to the 
language and literature of China ; which, however, he never 
made a profound study, as about this time (1770), feeling 
the precariousness of a purely literary |)rofpssion, he took 
steps to have himself called to the English bar, and for the 
following twelve years devoted himself with all his charac- 
teristic energy, and with marked success, to its laborious and 
engrossing duties. During the same period he endeavoured 
unsuccessfully to obtain a seat in Parliament; but in 1783, 
he accepted the appointment of Judge in the supreme court 
at Calcutta, and repaired to India in the same year. His 
attention to the duties of his office, is said to have been most 
earnest and exemplary. But, in the intervals of duty, he 
travelled over a great part of India; mixed eagerly in native 
society; and had acquired a familiarity with the history, 
antiquities, religions, science, and laws of India, such as had 
never before been attained by any European scholar, w4ien, 
unhappily for the science to which he was so thoroughly 
devoted, he was out off prematurely in the year 1791, at 
the early age of forty-seven. During a life thus laborious, 
and in great part spent in pursuits utterly uncongeinal with 
linguistic studies, Sir William Jones had nevertheless amassed 
a store of languages which had seldom, perhaps never, beea 
equalled before his time. Fortunately too, unlike most of the 
linguists whom we have been enumerating, he himself left aa 
autograph record of these studies, which Lord Teignmouth has 
preserved in his interesting Biography. In this paper, he 
describes the total number of languages with which he was 
in any degree acquainted to have been twenty-eight; but he 
further distributes these into classes according to the degree 
of his familiarity with each. Prom this curious memorandum, 
it appears that he had studied critically ^/_(7//^ languages, viz: — 
English, Latin, French, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Persian, 
Sanscrit ; eight others he had studied less perfectly, but all 
were intelligible to him with the aid of a Dictionary, viz : — 
Spanish, Portuguese, German, Runick, Hebrew, Bengali, 


Hindi, Turkish ; twelve others, in fine, he Imd studied least 
perfectly ; but he considered all these attainable ; namely 
Tibetan, Pali, Palavi, Deri, Russian, Syriac, Ethiopic. Coptic, 
Welsh, Swedish, Dutch, and Chinese."* 

Now, as Lord Teignmoutht describes him as perfectly fa- 
raihar with Spanish, Portuguese, and German, three lan- 
guages which he has himself placed on the list of languages, 
" less critically studied, but intelligible with the aid of a dic- 
tionary," it may fairly be believed that this estimate is, to say 
the least, a sufficiently modest one ; and that his acquaintance 
even with the languages of the third class was by no means 
superficial, we may infer from another memorandum pre- 
served by Lord Teignmouth from which we find that he had 
studied the grammars of two at least of the number, namely : 
Russian and Welsh. His biographer, however, unfortunately 
enters into no details as to his power of speaking languages ; 
but he is said by the writer of the notice in the Biographie 
JJniverselle to have spoken eight languages as perfectly as his 
native English. 

In contrast with successes so brilliant as these, the compara- 
tively humble career of the other British Orientalists named in 
conjunction with Sir William Jones, will appear tame and 
uninteresting. William Marsden was born in Dublin, 1754 ; 
and, after having completed the ordinary classical studies, was 
sent out to Bencoolen in the island of Sumatra, at the early 
age of sixteen. The extraordinary facility which he exhibited 
for acquiring the Malay languages led to his rapid advance- 
ment. He was named first under-secretary, and afterwards 
chief secretary of the Island ; and, before his return in 1779, 
he had accumulated the materials for the exceedingly valuable 
work on Sumatra which he pubhshed in 1782. Marsden held 
several important appointments after his return, J and he 
employed every interval of his official duties in literary pursuits. 
He was a thorough master of Sanscrit, and all its kindred 
languages ; but he must be described, nevertheless, rather as 
a book-learned, than a practical linguist. His Essay on the 
Polynesian or East Insular languages, tracing their connexion 
with each other, and their common relations with Sanscrit, is 

* Lord Teignmouth's Life of Sir William Jones, II., 168. 

t II., 168. 

X He di.splayed great disinterestedness in the public service bjr 
voluntarily relinquishing, several years before his death, (1836) a 
large pension which he held under the crown. 


still a standard source of information on this interesting 
ethnological question. 

Henry Tliomas Colebrooke,"^ well known by his "numerous 
coTitributions to Oriental literature, especially in the Asiatic 
Journal, was also an official of the East India Company, whose 
employment he entered, while still very young, as a civil servant. 
Colebrooke was well versed, not only in the Indian languages, 
but also in those of the Hebrew and cognate races; and his 
early education in France gave him a greater familiarity with 
French and other modern tongues than is often found to 
accompany the more profound linguistic studies. 

Matthew Lumsden was born in Aberdeenshire in 1777, and 
went as a mere boy to India, where his brother had an appoint- 
ment in the service of the Company. Lumsden's knowledge 
of Hindostani and of Persian led to his being employed first 
as translator in the criminal court, and afterwards as professor 
in Fortwilliam College, where he remained till 1820. His 
skill in Persian and Arabic is attested by several publications 
upon both, chiefly elementary; but he can hardly be classed 
with the higher Orientalists, much less with linguists of more 
universal pretensions. 

Lord Cockburn, in the lively section of his amusing 
" Memorials of his Own Time" which he devotes to the 
singular and unsteady career of John Leyden, says that 
M'Intosh, towhom "his wild friend" was clearly a source of great 
amusement, used to laugh at the affected modesty with which 
Leyden " professed to know but seventy languages. "t It is 
plain that M'Intosh considered this an extreme exaggeration ; 
but there can be no doubt, nevertheless, that Leyden was a 
very extraordinary linguist. This strange man, whose name 
will perhaps be remembered by the frequent allusions to it in 
the early correspondence of Sir Walter Scott, was born of a 
very humble family at Denholm in 1775. Though his edu- 
cation was of the very lowest order, yet Scott relates that 
" before he had attained his nineteenth year, he confounded the 
doctors of Edinburgh by the portentous mass of his acquisitions 
in almost every department of knowledge.''^ Having failed 
very signally in the clerical profession, to which he was brought 
up by his parents, he embraced that of medicine; and, after 
undergoing a more than ordinary share of the privations and 

• 1765—1837. 

1 Memorials of My Own Time, p. 180. 

% Lockhart's Life *of Scott, I., p. 323. 


vicissitudes of literary life such as it then existed, he went to 
Madras in 1803 iu the capacity of assistant surgeon in the 
East India Comjxmy's service. The adoption of this career 
decided the course of his after studies. He jiad learned, while 
yet a mere youtli, preparing for the university, Hebrew and 
Arabic. He afterwards extended his researches into all (he 
chief languages of the East, Sanscrit, Hindustani, and many 
other minor varieties of the Indian tongues. He was also 
thorough master of Persian. His career as Professor of 
Hindustani at Calcutta was more successful than that of any 
European scholar since Sir William Jones. Having also 
studied the Malay language, from which he made several 
translations, he was induced to accompany Lord Minto on tlie 
Java expedition in 1811, where he was cut off after 
a short illness in the same year, too soon, unhappily, to allow 
of his turning to full account tlie importaiit materials which 
he had collected for the comparative study of the Indo-Chinese 

The well-known evangelical commentator, Dr. Adam Clarke, 
born in 1760, of ve:y humble parentage, at Maglierafelt, iu 
theCoui.ty of Londmidcrry, in the north of Ireland, and for a 
long course of years the most distinguished preacher of the 
Methodist communion, enjoyed a high reputation among his 
followers as a linguist; but his studies had been confined 
almost entirely to ihe Biblical languages. The same may be 
said of the Eev. Dr. Barrett, vice-provost of Trinity College, 
Dublin, wlio is known to Biblical students as the editor of the 
Palimpsest MS. of the Gospels, and of the celebrated Codex 

But there is more of curious interest in the career of a very 
extraordinary individual, Richard Roberts Jones, of Aberdarvan, 
in Carnarvonshire, who, if not for the extent of his attainments, 
at least for the exceedingly unfavourable cii'cumt.tances under 
which they were acquired, deserves a place among examples of 
the "pursuit of knowledge under ditficulties." A privately 
printed memoir of this singular character, by Mr. Roscoe, who 
took much interest iu him, and exerted himself warmly iu his 
behalf, contains several most curious particulars regarding his 
studies and acquirements, as well as liis personal habits and 
appearance. Mr. Roscoe firsc met him iu 1806, and descri- 
bed him to Dr. Parr as " a poor Welsh fisher-lad, as ragged as 
a colt, and as uncouth as any being that has a semblance of 
humanity. But beneath such an exterior," he adds, " is a 
mind cultivated, not only beyond all reasonable expectation. 


but beyond all probable conception, lu his fishing boal ou 
the coast of Wales, at an age little more than twenty, he has 
acquired Greeks Hebrew, and Latin ; has read the Iliad, 
Hesiod, Theocritus, &c. ; studied the refinements of Greek 
pronunciation; and examined the connection of that language 
with Hebrew." An attempt was made to raise hiin to a posi- 
tion more befitting liis acquirements. But his habits were of 
the rudest and most uncleanly. " He loved to lie on his back 
in the bottom of a ditch. His uncouth appearance, solitary 
habits, and perhaps weak intellect, made him an object of 
ridicule and persecution to the children of the district; and, 
he often carried an iron pot on his head to screen him from 
the stones and clods which they threw at him. He wore a 
large filthy wrapper, in the pockets and folds of which he 
stowed his library ; and his face, covered with hair, gave him 
a strangely uncouth appearance ; although the mild and ab- 
stracted expression of his features took from it much of its 
otherwise repulsive character." Mr. Kos coe gives a very curious 
account of an interview between Dr. Parr and this strange 
genius, in Iblo, in the course of which Jones "exhibited a 
familiarity with French, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and 
Chaldee." He described too, for Dr. Parr, his mode of ac- 
quiring a new language, which consisted in carefully examining 
its vocabulary, ascertaining what words in it corresponded with 
those of any language which he had previously learned, and 
having struck such words out of (he vocabulary , proceeding to 
impress the rfmaiuivg words upon his memory, as being the 
only ones which were peculiar to the new language which he 
sought to acquire. Jt may easily be believed that Jones's 
irreclaimably uncouth and eccentric habits defeated the 
eflbrts made by his friends to place him in a condition more 
befitting his acquirements. Clothes with which their thought- 
fulness might replace his habitual rags, in a few days were 
sure to present the same filthy and dilapidated appearance. 
When a bed was i)rovided for liim, he chose to sleep not xipoUt 
but under it; and all his habits besi)oke at once weakness of 
mind and indisposition, or perhaps incapacity, to accommodate 
himself to the ordinary usages of other men. 

Dr. Thomas Young, although his fame must rest chiefly 
upon his brilliant philosophical discoveries, (especially in the 
Theory of Light), and on his success in deciphering and sjste- 
niatizing the hieroglyphical writing of the Egyptians, as exhi- 
bited in the inscriptions of the Rosetta Stone and in the fane- 


real papvri, cannot be passed over in a history of eminent Bri- 
tish linguists. Young was born at Milverton in Somersetshire, 
in 1773. His mind was remarkably precocious. He had read 
the whole Bible twice through, besides other books, be- 
fore he was four years old. In his seventh year he learnt 
Latin; and before he left school in his thirteenth year, he 
added to this Greek, French, and Italian. Soon after his re- 
turn from school, he mastered Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and 
Persian ; and, in all those languages, as well as in his own, 
his reading (of which his journals have preserved a most minute 
and accurate record), was so various and so vast, as almost to 
exceed belief. Having embraced the medical profession, he 
passed two years in different German Universities, during 
which time he not only extended his knowledge of learned 
languages, but also became perfect master of German; — not to 
speak of various other acquisitions, some of them of a class 
which are seldom found to accompany scholastic eminence, 
such as riding two horses at tiie same time, walking or dan- 
cing on the tight rope, and various other feats of harlequinade ! 
Of his skill in the ancient Egyptian language, as well as its 
more modern forms, in which he rivalled, and as his English 
biographer. Dr. Peacock, seeks to show,"^ surpassed, Cham- 
pollion and Lepsius, it is unnecessary to speak : and it is highly 
probable that, having learned Italian while a mere youth, t lie 
also made himself acquainted with Spanish, and perhaps 

Dr. Pritchard, who may be regarded as the founder of the 
English school of ethnography, can hardly, notwithstanding, 
be strictly called a linguist. If we except the Celtic langua- 
ges, and Greek, Latin, and German, most of his learning re- 
garding the rest is taken at second-hand from Adelung and 
others, ^'evertheless, the linguistic section of his " Eesearches 
into the Physical History of Mankind," is a work of very great 
value. M. Bunsen pronounces it "the best of its kind; infi- 
nitely superior, as a whole, to Adelung's Mithrldates •,% and 
Cardinal Wiseman, in his masterly lecture " On the Natural 
History of the Human race," not only gives Pritchard the 
credit of being " almost the first who attempted to connect 
ethnography with philology," but even goes so far as to say 

* Life of Thomas Young, M.D. By George Peacock, D.D. 
London, 1855. 

f See an interesting memoir in the National Review, II., 69 — 97. 
X Christianity and Mankind, III., 48. 


that it will henceforth "be difficult for any one to treat of this 
theme without being indebted to Dr. Pritchard for a great 
portion of his materials.""* 

Of the school of living British linguists I shall not be 
expected to speak at much length ; but there are a few names 
60 familiar to the scholars of every country that it would be 
unpardonable to pass them over entirely without notice. 

The work just quoted, from the very time of its publication 
in 1836, established the reputation of Dr. (now Cardinal) Wise- 
man, still a very young writer, as a philologist of the first rank. 
His latest writings show that, through all the engrossing duties 
in which he has since been engaged, he has continued to cul- 
tivate the science of philology. f The Cardinal is, moreover, 
a most accomplished linguist. Besides the ordinary learned 
languages, he is master not only of Hebrew and Chaldee, 
but also of Syriac (of his scholarship in which his Hora 
Syriaca is a most honourable testimony), Arabic, Persian, 
and Sanscrit. In modern languages he has few superiors. 
He speaks with fluency and elegance French, Italian, German, 
Spanish, and Portuguese ; and in most of these languages 
he has frequently preached or lectured extempore, or with little 

The interesting discoveries of Colonel Eawlinson and of Dr. 
Hincks, and Dr. Curetou's very important Syriac publications, 
have associated their names with the linguistic as well as the 
antiquarian memories of this age. Nor are there many English 
Orientalists whose foreign reputation is so high as that of Mr. 
Lane. But I am unable to speak of the attainments of any of 
these gentlemen in the other families of language. 

By far the most noticeable names in the list of living linguists 
of British race are those of Sir John Bowriug, now Governor 
at Hong-Kong, Professor Lee of Cambridge, and the American 
ex-blacksmith, Elihu Burritt. All three, beyond their several 
degrees of personal merit, possess a common claim to admir- 
ation, as being almost entirely self-educated. John (now Sir 
John) Bowring, as I learn from a Memoir published about 
three years since, j before he had attained his eighteenth year, 
had learned Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, 
German, and Dutch. He is said to have since added to his 

* Lectures on Science and Revealed Religion, I,, 180. 

+ See especially an exceedingly learned and interesting article in 
the Dublin Review, Vol. XXXIX., pp. 199-244, on Dr. Donaldson's 

t Illustrated London News, Feb. 10, 1856. 


store almost ever)' language of Europe; — Russian, Servian, 
Bohemian, Polish, Hungarian, Slovakian, Swedish, Danish, 
Icelandic, Lettish. Finnish, and even Basque ; and he is further 
described as familiar with all the provincial varieties of each ; 
for instance, of the various oflshoots of German, and of the 
several dialects of Spanish wliich prevail in Catalonia, Valencia 
and Galicia. Dr. i3o\vririg's later career brought him into 
familiarity with Arabic and Turkish ; and his still more recent 
successes in China and in Siam and its dependencies are equally 
remarkable. It is not so easy to ofl'er an opinion as to the 
degree of Sir John Bowring's acquaintance with each of the 
languages which are ascribed to him. His interesting poetical 
translations from Russian, Servian, Bohemian, and other lan- 
guages of Europe, are rather a test of elegant literary tastes 
than of exact linguistic attainments; nor am I aware to what 
more direct ordeal his various attainments have been subjected. 
It were to be wished that the Memoir from which these parti- 
culars are derived had entered more into detail upon this part 
of the subject. But, even making every allowance for possible 
exaggeration, it seems impossible to doubt the claim of Sir 
John Bowring to a place in the very highest rank of modern 

Dr. Samuel Lee is perhaps even a still more extraordinary 
example of self-education. He was born in the very humblest 
rank in the village of Longnor in Shropshire, and, after having 
spent a short time in the poor-school of his native village, 
commenced life as a carpenter's apprentice, when lie was but 
twelve years old. Ln the few intervals of leisure which this 
laborious occupation permitted, Mr. Jerdan states'^ that, 
without the least assistance from masters, he taught himself 
Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldee ; having contrived, from 
the hoardings of his scanty wages, to procure a few elementary 
books in these and other languages. On his marriage, how- 
ever, he was forced to sell the little library which he had 
accumulated, in order to provide for the new wants with which 
he found himself encompassed : and for a time his struggle 
after learning was suspended ; but his extraordinary attainments 
having begun to attract notice, he was relieved from the 
uncongenial occupation which he had hitherto followed, and 
appointed master of a school at Shrewsbury. In the more 
favourable position which he had thus obtained, he soon ex- 

* See a memoir of Dr. Samuel Lee in Jordan's " Portrait Gallery," 
Vol. V. 


tended his reading to Arabic, Persian, and Hindustani. In 
18i'i he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where it is worthy 
of note that he distinguished himself no less in science than 
in languages, and took his degree with much credit. He was 
afterwards appointed superintendent of the Oriental press of 
the British and Foreign Bible Society, for which body he has 
not only edited the Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Hindustani, Malay, 
and other versions of the Bible, but has also translated, or 
superintended the translation, of many tracts in these various 
languages. When Mr. Wheaton, an American traveller, 
(brother of the well-known American jurist of that name) 
visited Professor Lee, he found him acquainted with no less 
than " sixteen languages, in most of which he was able to 
write."* Neither this writer, however, nor Mr. Jerdan, informs 
us as to the extent of Dr. Lee's attainments in speaking 
foreign languages. 

The list of linguists of the British race may be closed not 
unworthily with the still more remarkable nameof Elihu Burritt, 
who, though born in America (in IS 11,) is descended of an 
English family, settled in Connecticut for the last two cen- 
turies. The circumstances of Burritt's father, who was a 
shoemaker, were so narrow, that the education of Elihu, the 
■youngest of five sons, was entirely neglected. When his 
father died, Elihu, then above fifteen years old, had spent but 
three months at school; and, being altogether dependent on 
his own exertions for support, he was obliged to bind himself 
as an apprentice to tiie trade of blacksmith. Fortunately, 
however, an elder brother who was a schoolmaster, settled 
in the same town before the term of Elihu's apprenticeship 
expired ; and as the latter had carefully devoted each spare moment 
of his laborious life to reading every book that came within 
his reach, he gladly availed himself, as soon as he became his 
own master, of his brother's otTer to take him as a pupil for 
iialf a year, which was all the time he could hope to spare 
from his craft. During that time, brief as it was, Elihu 
" became well versed in mathematics, went through Virgil in 
the original, and read several French books." Having thus 
laid the foundation, he returned to his trade, resolved to 
labour till he should have acquired the means of completing 
the work ; and, in the strong passion for knowledge which 
devoured him, he actually engaged himself to do the work of 

• Journal of a Residence in London. By Nathaniel Wheaton, 
A.M., p. 83. 


two men, in order tliat, by receiving double wages, he might 
more quickly realize the desired independence. Yet, even 
while he was thus doubly tasked, and while his daily hours of 
labour were no less than fourteen, he contrived to give some 
time in the mornings and evenings to Latin, French, and 
Spanish; and he actually procured a small "Greek grammar, 
which would just lie in the crown of his hat, and used to carry it 
with him to read during his work — the casting of brass cow 
bells, a task which required no small amount of attention !" 

With the little store which he thus toilfully accumulated, 
he betook himself to New Haven, the seat of Hale College, 
although without a hope of being able to avail himself of its 
literary advantages. Here too he worked almost unaided. 
He took lodgings at an inn frequented by the students, 
though too poor to enter the university ; and in the course of 
a few months, by unremitting study, he read through the 
whole Iliad in Greek, and had made considerable progress in 
Italian and German, besides extending his knowledge of 
Spanish and French. Having obtained, soon afterwards, a 
commercial appointment, he was partially released, for a space, 
from the mechanical drudgery in which he was so long engaged ; 
and, as he was thus enabled to devote a little more time to his 
favourite studies, he contrived to learn Hebrew, and made his 
first advance towards a regular course of Oriental reading. 
But this interval of rest was a brief one ; after a very mortifying 
failure, he was at last compelled to return once more to the 
anvil, as his only sure resource against poverty. Still, never- 
theless, he toiled on in his enthusiastic struggle for knowledge. 
Even while engaged in this painful drudgery, " every moment," 
says Mrs. Howitt,* "which he could steal out of the four-and- 
tweuty hours was devoted to study ; he rose early in the 
M'inter mornings, and, while the mistress of the house was 
preparing breakfast by lamplight, he would stand by the 
mantel-piece, with his Hebrew Bible on the shelf, and his 
lexicon in his hand, thus studying while he ate; the same 
method was pursued at the other meals ; mental and bodily 
food being taken in together. This severe labour of mind, as 
might be expected, produced serious effects on his health ; he 
suffered much from headaches, the characteristic remedy for 
which were two or three additional hours of hard forging, and 
a little less study." 

An extract from his own weekly Diary, which Mrs. Howitt 

• People's Journal, Vol. J., p. 244. 


has preserved, tells the story of his struggle still more 
touchingly : — "Monday, June 18, headache; forty pages 
Cuvier's Theory of the Earth, sixty-four pages French, eleven 
hours forging. Tuesdai/, sixty-five lines of Hebrew, thirty 
pages of French, ten pages Cuvier's Theory, eight lines Syriac, 
ten ditto Danish, ten ditto Bohemian, nine ditto Polish, 
fifteen names of stars, ten hours forging, Wednesday, 
twenty-five lines Hebrew, fifty pages of astronomy, eleven 
hours forging. Thursday, fifty-five lines Hebrew, eight ditto 
Syriac, eleven hours forging. Friday, unwell ; twelve hours 
forging. Saturday, unwell ; fifty pages Natural Philosophy, 
ten hours forging. Sunday, lesson for Bible class." 

Through these and many similar difficulties, has this 
extraordinary man found his way to eminence. Without 
attempting to chronicle the stages of his progress, it will be 
enough to state that a writer of last year describes him as at 
present acquainted with eighteen languages, besides his native 
English, viz : — Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Samaritan, 
Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Ethiopic, Italian, French, Spanish, 
German, Danish, Irelandic, Esthouian, Bohemian, and Polish.* 
He is author of several works, and was for some time Editor 
of a Journal entitled "The Christian Citizen." 

As in the case of Dr. Lee, no attempt is made, in either of 
the biographies of Burritt which I have consulted, to define 
with exactness the degree of his knowledge of each among 
the various languages which he has learned ; but if his pro- 
ficiency in them be at all considerable, his position among 
linguists must be admitted to be of the very highest ; and 
as he is still only in his forty-sixth year, it would be difficult 
to predict what may be the limit of his future successes. 


The extraordinary capacity of the Slavonic races for the ac- 
quisition of foreign languages, has long been a subject of ob- 
servation and of wonder. In every educated foreign circle 
Russians and Poles may be met, whom it is impossible to dis- 
tinguish, by their language, or even by their accent, from the 
natives of the country : and this accomplishment is frequently 
found to embrace the entire range of the polite languages of 
Europe. In the higher native Russian society, it is rare to 
meet one who does not speak several languages, besides his 

• Knight's Cyclopaedia of Biography, art. Burritt, 


owi). Every candidate for public office in Russia, especially 
in connexion \vitli foreign affairs, must be master of at least 
four languages, rrencli, German, English, and Italian; and 
in the Eastern governments of the empire, are constantly to 
be found employes, who, to the ordinary stock of European 
languages, add an equal number of the dialects of the Asiatic 
races subject to the Czar. 

In most cases, however, this facility in the use of foreign 
languages enjoyed by the natives of Russia and Polatul, is 
chiefly conversational, and acquired rather by practice than by 
study ; and, among the numbers who, during the last thrt-e 
centuries, must be presumed to have possessed this gift in an 
eminent degree, very few a])pear to have acquired a permanent 
reputation as scholars in the higher sense of the name. 

Unfortunately, too, even were it otherwise, the materials 
for a history of Russian linguists are extremely scanty. Not 
one of those who have written upon Slavonic Literature, appears 
to have adverted to tliis as a distinct branch of scholarship ; 
Slavonic scholars, too, have met but imperfect justice from the 
writers on general biography ; and thus, especially for one to 
whom the native sources of information are inaccessible, the 
rare allusions which can be gleaned from the geueral history 
of Shnvonic literaturcf supply but an uncertain and imperfect 
guide,''^ even did opportunities present themselves for pursu- 
ing the inquiry. 

It would be unpardonable, nevertheless, to pass the subject 
over in silence ; and I can only renew in especial reference to 
this part of the memoir, the claim for indulgence with which I 
entered upon ihis Essay. 

Christianity, and with it the first seeds of civilization, reached 
Russia from Constantinople ; and it is not unlikely that the 
friendly and frequent intercourse which subsisted between the 
two courts under the first Christian Dukes of Muscovy, Vladi- 
mir and Jaroslav, may have led to a considerable interchange 
of language between the members of the two nations. The 
many foreign alliances, too, with Constantinople, Germany, 
Hungary, France, England, Norway, and Poland, which were 

• I must here acknowledge my especial obligations to Mr. Watts; 
not alone for the facilities kindly afforded to lue in consulting books 
in the British Museum Library, but for the valuable assistance in 
discovering the best sources of information which his extensive 
acquaintance with Slavonic literature enabled him to render to me 
in the inquiry. 


formed by tlie cliildreii of Juroslav, may, perhaps, have teiuled 
to familiarize his subjects, or at least his court, with some of 
the languages of Southern and Western Europe. But no re- 
cord of this — the one bright period in early Russian history — 
has been preserved, from which any particulars can be gleaned. 

The division of Jaroslav's dominions between his sons at his 
death, (in 1054-,) plunged the Russian nation into a series of 
civil wars and into the barbarism to which such wars lead, from 
which it did not begin to emerge till the sixteenth century ; 
and, although a few translations (chiefly theological), from 
Greek and Latin, were made during this period, yet, from the 
interruption of all intercourse with foreign countries, it may 
be presumed that (with the exception, perhaps, of a I'tw enter- 
prising individuals, like the merchant Nikitin,* who, in the 
filteenth century, traversed the entire East, and penetrated as 
far as Tibet,) the natives of an empire so completely isolated 
concerned themselves little about any language beyond their 

Macarius, who was Metropolitan of Moscow in the middle of 
the sixteenth century, did something to promote the introduc- 
tion of foreign letters into Russia, t and many translations, not 
only from the Greek and Latin fathers, but also from the clas- 
•sical writers, were made under his direction. A still greater 
impulse must have been given to this particular branch of 
study by the new policy introduced by the Czar Boris Feodo- 
rowitsch Godounoff, who not only invited learned foreigners to 
his court, but sent eighteen young nobles of Russia to foreign 
countries to study their arts, their literature and their 

The results of this more liberal policy, however, had hardly 
begun to be felt, when the troubles which followed the well- 
known revolution of Demetrius the Impostor, revived for a 
time the worst forms of barbarism in the Empire. 

The elevation (in 1013,) of the family of Romanoff to the 
throne, in the person of the Czar Michael, by restoring a more 
settled government, contributed to advance the cause of letters. 
The monk Beriinda Pameva, published about this time a Slavo- 
Russian Lexicon, w^hich exhibits in its etymologies an ac- 
quaintance with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, § 

* For some account of this traveller see Otto's Lehrbiich der 
Russischen Literatur, p. 231. 

-f- Kcinig's Literarische BilJer aus Russland, p. 33. 

t Ibid. 

^ Otto's Lehrbueh, p. 246. Pameva was not properly a Russian, 
having been born in Moldavia ; but he became a monk at Kiew, 
which thenceforward was the country of his adoption, 



A school was founded at Moscow by the priest-monk Ar- 
senius, for the study of Greek and Latin, in 1643, one of the 
scliolars of which, Theodore Rtisclitsche(f, founded a society for 
transhiting works from foreign languages in 1649 ; and another 
school of still more wide-spread influence was opened in the 
Monastery of Saikonosspassk, in 1G82. It is worthy of remark, 
nevertheless, that the first Russian grammar, that of Ludolf,"^ 
was printed, not at any native press, but in the University of 

One of the members of the Translation Society alluded to 
above, the monk Epiphanius Slawinezki, appears to have been 
regarded by his contemporaries as a linguist of notable attain- 
ments. He published a Greek, Latin, and Slavonic Dictionary, 
and commenced a Slavonic translation of the Bible from the 
original Greek, which was cut short by his death in 1676 ; but 
there is no reason to believe that he was acquainted with any 
of the Oriental languages ; and the inference to be drawn from 
the reputation which he enjoyed on so slight a foundation, is 
far from creditable to the linguistic attainments of his time. 

It is only from the reign of Peter the Great that the history 
of this, as of all other branches of Russian enlightenment, may 
be properly said to commence. Independently of the encou- 
ragement which Peter held out to foreign talent to devote 
itself to his service, the grand and comprehensive scheme of 
the academy which he planned under the direction of Leib- 
nitz, contained a special provision for the department of lan- 
guages.t And although it was not formally opened until after 
Peter's death, by the Empress Catherine I. (1725), the in- 
fluence of the policy in which it originated, bad made itself 
felt long before. The Czar's favourite, Mentschikoff, who from 
an obscure origin (1674-1729) built up the fortunes of what 
is now one of the greatest houses of Russia, was master of 
eight languages, most of which he spoke with perfect fluency. 
Demetrius Kantemir, (1673-1723), father of the celebrated 
poet of that name, deserves also to be noticed. lie was des- 
cended of a Turkish family, and held the office of Hospodar 
of Moldavia ; but he prized his literary reputation more than 
his rank. He appears to have been a scholar in the high- 
est sense of the name, and was familiarly acquainted, not only 

* Grammatica Russica et Manuductio ad Linguam Slavorum, 
Oxford, 1696. 

t See Guhrauer's " Leibnitz, eine Biographic," Vol. II., pp. 271-5, 
for the details of this magnificent scheme. 


with tlie livini^ languages wLicli are so easily acquired by liis 
countrymen, but with several of the learned languages, both of 
the East and the West.* The poet, his son Autiochus 
Demetrjewitsch, is also described as " master of several langua- 
ges, ancient and modern. ''f The same may be inferred regard- 
ing the great traveller, Basilius Gregorowitsch Barskj, who 
was born at Kiew, in 170:2. He must necessarily have ac- 
quired, during his long and adventurous wanderings in Europe 
and the East, a familiarity with many of the languages of the 
various countries through which he journeyed, although he was 
prevented from turning it to account upon his return to Russia 
by his premature death in 17474 

Basilius Kikiiitsch Tatisscheff, one of the youths sent 
abroad by Peter the Great, for the purpose of studying in the 
foreign universities, enjoyed a considerable reputation as a 
linguist. § The History of Russia which he compiled, sup- 
poses a familiarity with several Asiatic, as well as European 
languages; but, as it is not improbable that part of the ma- 
terials which he employed in this history were translated for 
his use by assistants engaged for the purpose, it may be 
doubted whether this can be assumed as a fair test of his own 
capabilities. The linguistic attainments of the celebrated poet 
Lcmonossoff, || although considerable, form his least soHd title 
to fame. His history is so full of interest, that its incidents, 
almost utterly unvarnished, have supplied the narrative of one 
of the most popular of modern Russian novels. Born (1711) 
in a rude fisher's hut in the wretched village of Denissowka on 
the shore of the Frozen Ocean, he rose by his own unassisted 
genius not only to high eminence in science, but to the very 
first rank in the literature of his native country, of which he 
may truly be described as the founder ; and, although he does 
not seem to have made languages a special study, he deserves 
to be noticed even in this department. He was perfect master 
of Greek, Latin, Erench, and German ; and possessed with 
other ancient and modern languages, an acquaintance sufficient 
for all the purposes of study. The attainments of his con- 

• Otto's Lehrbuch, p. 179. 

t See an article on "Russian Literature," Foreign Quart. Beview, 
Vol. 1., p. 610. 

% See an interesting notice in Otto's Lehrbuch, suh voce. 

§ Otto's Lehrbuch, p. 294. 5. 

II See Konig's Literarische Bilder aus Russland, p. 38, also Otto's 
Lehrbuch, p. 204, and Bowring's Russian Anihologij, 1. 205. 8. His 
works fill 6 vols. 8vo. 1804. 


temporary, Basilius Petrowitsch Petroff, (1736) were perhaps 
more profound. He was a scholar of the celebrated convent 
of Saikonosspassk ; and having attracted notice by an ode 
which he composed for the coronation of the Empress 
Catherine, he was employed, through the influence of 
Potemkin, at tlie English and several other European courts. 
Through the opportunities which he thus enjoyed, he became 
one of the best linguists of his day, and we may form an 
estimate of his zeal and perseverance from the circumstance 
of his having learned Eomaic after his sixtieth year.* Gabriel, 
Archbishop of St. Petersburg, (1775—1801) and one of the 
most distinguished pulpit orators of Russia, is also mentioned 
as a very remarkable linguist. t His success, however, lay 
chiefly in modern languages. 

The most eminent scholars engaged in the philological and 
ethnological investigations undertaken by the Empress Catherine 
II. were foreigners ; as, for example, Pallas, and Bakmeister. 
Some, however, were native Russians, but few details are 
preserved regarding them. Of SujefF, who accompanied Pallas 
in the expedition to Tartary and China, and who translated 
tlie journals of the expedition into Russian, { I have not been 
able to obtain any particulars. I have been equally unsuccess- 
ful as to the history of Theodore Mirievo de Jankiewitsch, the 
compiler of the alphabetical Digest of Pallas's Comparative 
Vocabulary, described in a former page ; but it can scarcely 
be doubted, from the very nature of his task, that he must 
have been a man of no ordinary acquirements as a linguist, 
at least as regards the vocabularies of language. 

During the present century a good deal has been done in 
Russia for the cultivation of particular families of languages. 
The " Lazareff Institute," founded at Moscow in 1813,§ by 
an Armenian family from which it takes its name, comprehends 
in its truly munificent scheme of education not only the 
Armenian, Georgian, and Tartar languages, but also the 
several members of the Caucasian family. || An Oriental 
Institute^ on a somewhat similar plan was established at 

* Otto's Lehrbuch, p. 257* 

tBiograph. Univ. VIII. p. 87. 

j Otto's Lehrbuch, p. 246. 

§ See an interesting sketch of this institute, by M, Dulaurier: 
L'Institut Lazartff des Languea Orientates, Paris 1856. 

II Dulaurier, p. 48. 

% Historic View of the Language and Literature of the Slavonic 
Nations, by Talvi — the pseudonym of Theresa A. L. von Jacob, 


St, Petersburg in 1823. Another was opened at the still 
more favourable centre of lauijuages, Odessa, in 1829; and 
a fourth, yet more recently, at Kazan, the meeting point of 
the two great classes of languages which j)ractically divide 
between them the entire Russian Empire.* Individual scholars, 
too, have taken to themselves particular branches of the 
study, some of them with very remarkable success. Timkoli'sky, 
the well-known missionaiy in China,t and Hyacinth Bitchourin, 
who was head of the Pekin Russian Mission from 1S08 to 
1812, have contributed to popularize the study of Chinese.^ 
Igumnoff of Irkutsch published a useful dictionary of the 
Mongol : Giganoff, and more recently Volkoff, a dictionary of 
the Tartar languages ; of which Mirza Kazem-Beg, professor of 
the I'urkish and Tartar languages at St. Petersburg, has 
compiled an excellent grammar. The same service has been 
rendered to the language of Georgia and its several dialects 
by David Tchubinoff.§ The numerous philological writings 
of Goulianofl", too, and, more lately, Prince Alexander 
Ilandjeri's Bictionnaire Fran(;ais^ AraLe, Persan, et Turc,\\ 
have establishcfi a European reputation. 

The present Prefect Apostolic of the Arctic Missions, who 
is a convert from the Russian Church, is said to be a very 
extraordinary linguist. Even before he entered upon his mis- 
sionary charge, in which, of course, the circle of his languages 
is much enlarged, he habitually heard confession?, at Paris, in 
six langnages. 

Perhaps also it may be permitted to enumerate among 
Russian linguists three eminent literary men wlio have long 
been resident at St. Petersburg, and who, although not natives 
of Russia, may now be regarded as naturalized subjects of 
the Empire — Senkowsky, Gretsch and Mirza Kazem-Beg. 

The first is by birth a Pole ;1[ but having early attained to 
much eminence as an Orientalist, and having travelled with 

(formed of her several initials), daughter of the celebrated Professor 
von Jacob, aiid)now wife of Dr. Robinson the eminent American Bib- 
lical scholar, p. 73. 

♦ Ibid 

f Travels of the Russian Mibsion through Mongolia and China, 
2 vols. 8vo, 1827 

\ Historical View of Slavonic Languages, p. 32. 

§ Ibid, p. 98, His Georgian Dictionary obtained the Demidoff 
prize. See catalogue de I'Acadeaiie Imperiale a St. Petcrsbourg, p. 58. 

II 3 vols. 4to. Moscow, 1840. 

\ Literari^che Bilder aus Russland (Kanig), pp. 312-21, 


some reputation as an explorer in Syria and Egypt, he obtained 
the Professorship of Oriental languages in the university of 
St. Petersburg, in which he has since distinguished himself 
by an important controversy with the celebrated Von Hammer. 
S'enkowsky, since his residence in St. Petersburg, has made 
the Russian language his own, and is one of the most 
prolific writers in the entire range of modern Russian 
literature. His grammar of that language is among the most 
intelligible to foreigners that has ever been issued. "With 
most of the languages of Europe, he is said to be perfectly 
familiar, and his attainments as an Orientalist are of the very 
highest rank. He is a corresponding member of the Asiatic 
Societies of most of the capitals of Europe, and publishes 
indifferently in Polish, Russian, German, and French. 

Gretsch, the editor of the well-known St. Petersburg 
Journal, " The Northern Bee," is perhaps less profound, but 
equally varied in his attainments. Although a German by 
birth, he writes exclusively in Russian, and is the author of the 
best and most popular extant history of Russian literature ; of 
which Otto's Lehrliich der Russischen Literatur, although 
apparently an independent work, is almost a literal translation.'^ 

Mirza Kazem-Beg is of the Tartar race, but a native of 
Astracan, where his father, a man of much reputation for 
learning, had settled about the commencement of the century. 
Soon after the establishment of the professorship of the Turkish 
and Tartar languages at Kazan, Kazem-Beg was selected to 
fill it ; and, after some time, he was removed to the same chair 
in the University of Petersburg, which he still holds. Besides 
the ordinary learned languages, he is acquainted with the 
Hebrew, Chaldee, Arabic, Syrian, Persian, and Turkish, as well 
as those of the Tartar stock ; and he is described as perfect 
master of the modern European languages, especially Prench, 
Italian, German, and English. The last named language he 
speaks and writes with great ease and elegance, and has even 
published some translations into it, as, for example, the 
" Derbend-Nameh."t 

The reputation of the Poles as linguists is equally high. 
So far back as the election of Henry de Valois, Choisnin, who 

• Literature and Language of Slavonic Nations, p. 244. 
■f In one vol. 4to, Petersburg, 185L 


accompamed Henry to Poland, says tliat of the two Imndred 
roiisl nobJes who were then assembled, there were hardly two 
who did not speak in addition to their native Polish, German. 
Italian, and Latin.-*^ So universal was the knowled-e of the 
last named language that, with perhaps a pardonable exagger- 
ation, Martin Kromer alleges that there were fewer in Pdand 
tUan in Latiura itself who did not speak it.f 

Nevertheless few names present themselves in this department 
which have left any permanent trace in history. Prancis 
Meninski, the learned author of the Thesaurus Linguarum 
Oneniahum,X was not only a profound scholar in most of the 
ancient and modern languages, but, from his long residence in 

he Last, and from the office of Oriental Interpreter which he 
held farst in the Polish and afterwards in the Imperial service 
must be presumed to have spoken them freely and familiarly. 
i3ut Meninski was a native of Lorraine, and by some is believed 

have been originally named Menin, and only to have adopted 
tJie Fo ish affix, sh, on receiving from the Diet his patent of 
naturalization and nobility. 

Among the early Polish Jesuits were many accomplished 
classical and Oriental linguists, but in the absence of any par- 
ticulars of their attainments, it would be uninteresting to 
enumerate them. In later times the names of Groddek'and 
iiobrowski may be mentioned as philologers, if not as linguists, 
ihe learned Jesuit historian, John Christopher Albertrandy, 
also, possesses this among many other titles to fame. He was 
a most laborious and successful collector of materials for Polish 
history, m search of which he explored the libraries of Italy, 

* De Origine et Rebus Gestis Polonorum, Lib. XXX., ibid 244 

t Lilt, and Lang, of Slavonic Nations, p. 178, 

t The Thesaurus (4 vols, folio, Vienna 1680) supposes in its 
author a knowledge of at least eight different languages. Arabic. 
Persian, Turkish, Latin, Italian, French, German, and Polish. 
Meninski was a man of indomitable energy. In two successive 
pamphlets which he published in the course of a controversy which 
he carried on with his great rival, Podest^ (who was professor of 
Arabic in the University) he went to the pains of actually transcribing 
with his own hand in each copy the quotations from Oriental author* 
as there were no Oriental types in Vienna from which they could 
be printed ! Meninski's Thesaurus, however, is best known from 
the learned edition of it which was printed at Vienna (1780-1802) 
under the revision of Baron von lenisch, himself an Orientalist of 
very high reputation, and for a considerable time interpreter of the 
Austrian embassy at Constantinople. 


from wheuce lie carried borne, after three years of ])atient 
research, a hundred and ten folio volumes of extracts copied 
with his own hand IFrom Italy he proceeded toStockliolin and 
L'psala, where many important documents connected with the 
time of John III. and Sigismond III. are preserved : and here, 
being, from some unworthy jealousy, oidy permitted to inspect 
the desired documents on the condition of not making notes 
or copies in the library, his prodigious memory enabled him 
on his return each evening to his apartments, to commit to 
writing what he had read during the day, and the collection 
thus formed amounted to no fewer than ninety folio volumes!* 
Albertrandy's historical works are very numerous ; and when 
his labours in this department are remembered, his success as 
a linguist will appear almost prodigious. Besides Latin, Greek, 
and Hebrew, he knew most of the modern languages, French, 
English, Italian, German, and Russian, and spoke the majority 
of them with ease and propriety. 

The well-known Polish General, Wenceslaus Rzewuski, 
devoted the later years of his busy and chequered career to 
literary, and especially to linguistic, pursuits. He is said to 
have spoken the learned tongues as well and as freely as his 
native Polish, and to have been master, moreover, of all the 
leading modern languages of Europe. The great Oriental 
Journal published at Vienna, Fimdgruben des Orients, which 
is really what its title implies, a mine of Oriental learning, was 
for many years under his superintendence. 

The Russo-Polish diplomatist. Count Andrew Italinski, is 
another example of the union of profound scholarship with 
great talents for public afl'airs. Born in Poland about the 
middle of the eighteenth century, Italinski visited in the 
successive stages of his education, Kiew, Leyden, Edinburgh, 
London, Paris, and Berhu, and acquired the languages of all 
those various countries. Being eventually appointed to the 
Russian embassy in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, he became 
even more perfect in Italian. In addition to all these languages, 
he was so thoroughly master uf those of the East, Turkish, 
Arabic, Persian, &c., as to challenge the admiration even of 
the Easterns themselves.t 

It is perhaps right to add that the eminent Orientalist of 
St. Petersburg, Seukowsky, although a Russian by residence 

* Literature of Slavonic Nations, 270. See also an interesting 
memoir in the Biugruphie Universelh\ He was born at Warsaw in 
1731, and survived till 1808. 

f See Biographie Universelle (Supplement), Vol. LVII , p. 589. 
Italinski continued and completed D'ilancarville's great work on 
Etruscan Antiquities. 


and by association, is not only, as I liave already ^ita(e(l, of 
Polish birlli, but is, moreover, one of the most popular writers 
in his native language. 

Our nolice of Bohemian linguists must be even more 

The early period of Bohemian letters presents no distinguished 
name. From the extraordinary activity which the Bohemians 
exhibited in translating the Bible in the fifteenth century, it 
might be supposed tiiat the study of Greek and Hebrew liad 
already taken root in the schools of Prague. But out of tiie 
" thirty-three copies in Bohemian of the entire Bible, and 
twenty-two of the New Testament,""^ which are still extant, 
translated during that period, not one was rendered from the 
original languages. Blakoslav, the first translator of the Bible 
Irom Greek (in 1563) is said to have been a man of " profound 
erudition.'" The same is said of George Strye a few years 
later; and the Jesuits Konstanj, Steyer, and Drachovsky, are 
also entitled to notice. 

John Amos Komnensky,also, better known by his Latinized 
name, Comenius, a native of Komna in Moravia, (1592-1671) 
deserved well of linguistic science, not only by his own acquire- 
ments, but by his well-known work, the Jauua Linguarum 
Reserata, which has had the rare fortune of being translated 
not only into twelve European languages, but into those of 
several Oriental nations besides. The Janua Linguarum, 
however, though it attracted much attention at the time, has 
long been forgotten. 

It would be still more unpardonable to overlook the cele- 
brated philologer, Father Joseph Dobrowsky, who, although 
born in Kaab, in Hungary, was of a Bohemian family, and 
devoted himseli especially to the literature and language of 
his nation. He had just entered tlie Jesuit society at Bruun 
at the moment of tiie su})pression of the order, liepairing to 
Prague, he applied himself for a time to the study of the 
Oriental languages, but eventually concentrated all his energies 
on the history and language of Bohemia. His works upon 
Bohemian history and antiquities fill many volumes ; and his 
Slavonic Grammar may be regarded as a classical work, not 
only in reference to his native language, but to the whole 

• Ibid., p. 190. 


Slavonian family. Father Dobrowsky survived till tho year 
1829, engaged until the very time of his death in active pro- 
jects for the cultivation of the language and literature of the 
country of his adoption. 

But probably the most remarkable name among Bohemian 
linguists is that of Father Dobrowsky's friend, the poet 
Wenceslaus Hanka, born at Horeneyes in 1791. Hanka's 
love of languages was first stirred while he was tending sheep 
near his native village, by the opportunity which he had of learn- 
ing Polish and Servian from some soldiers of these races being 
quartered upon his father's farm. When he grew somewhat 
older, his parents, in order to save him from the chances of 
military conscription, (from which, in Bohemia, scholars are 
exempted) sent him to school ; and he afterwards entered the 
University of Prague, and subsequently that of Vienna. On 
the foundation of the Bohemian Museum at Prague, he was 
appointed its librarian, through the recommendation of Father 
Dobrowsky ; and from that time he devoted himself almost 
entirely to the antiquities, literature, and language of his native 
country. Besides his own original compositions, Hanka's 
name has obtained considerable celebrity in connexion with 
the controversy about the genuiness of the early Bohemian 
poems known under the title of " Kralodvor," — a controversy 
which, although it has ended differently, was for a time hardly 
less animated than those regarding the Ossian and Rowley 
MSS. in England. Notwithstanding the variety of Hanka's 
pursuits, and his especial devotion to his own language, his 
acquisitions in languages have been most various and extensive. 
He is described in the "Oesterreichische National Encyclopsedie" 
as " master of eighteen languages."* 

With the Slavonic race our Catalogue of Linguists closes. 
Many particulars regarding the eminent names which it 
comprises are, of necessity, left vague and undetermined. I 
should have especially desired to distinguish, in all cases, 
between mere book knowledge of languages and the power of 
writing, or still more of speaking, them. But unfortunately 
the accounts which are preserved regarding these scholars 
hardly ever enter into this distinction. Even Sir William 

* See an interesting memoir in Knight's Cycloptedia of Biography, 
Vol. III., pp. 280-1. 


JoueSj though he carefully classified the languages which he 
knew, did not specify thisparticular; and in most other instances, 
the narrative, far from particularizing, like that of Jones, the 
extent of the individual's acquaintance with each language, even 
leaves in uncertainty the number of languages with vviiich 
he was acquainted in any degree. 

The very distribution, too, which I have found it expedient 
to follow — according to nations — has had many disadvantages. 
But it seemed to be upon the whole the most convenient that 
could be devised. A distribution into periods, besides that it 
would have been difficult to follow out upon any clear and 
intelligible principle, would have been attended with the same 
disadvantages which characterize that according to nations ; 
while the more strictly philosophical distribution according to 
ethnographical or philological schools, would have in great 
measure failed to illustrate the object which I have chiefly had 
iu view. Several of the most eminent of the modern ethno- 
graphical writers, and particularly Pritchard, disavow all claim 
to the character of linguists ; and the qualifications of many 
even of those whose pretensions seem the highest, have, when 
submitted to a rigid examination, proved far more than 

There are many curious details, however, into which, if space 
permitted, it would be interesting to pursue this inquiry. 

It might seem natural, for instance, to investigate the nature 
and extent of the Miraculous Gift of Languages — the ytm 
yXMo-ffSv of St. Paul — whether that possessed by the Apostles 
and other early teachers of Christianity, or that ascribed in 
later times to the missionaries among the Heathen, and especially 
to the great Apostle of India, St. Francis Xavier. Materials 
are not wanting for such an investigation ;* but as it can 
hardly be said to bear upon the subject of this Biography, I 
have reluctantly passed it by. 

The history of Hoyal Linguists, too, might afford much 
amusing material for speculation. Mithridates, King of Pontus, 
as we have seen, spoke twenty-two languages. Cleopatra was 

* See Staudenmaier's " Piagmatismus der Geistes-gaben," 
[Tubingen 1835], and Englmann's " Von der Charismen ira all- 
gemeinen, und von dem Sprachen-charismen ira Besondern." 
[Regensburg, 1848]. See also a long list of earlier writers (chiefly 
Rationalistic) in Kuinoel's " Commentarius in Libros N. T." vol. 
IV. pp. 40-2 ; also in Englmann, pp. 15-23. 


mistress, not only of seven languages enumerated by Plutarcli, 
but, if we may believe bis testimony, of niost oilier known 
languages of tlie time. Tbe acconiplished, but ill-fated, Queen 
of Palmyra, Zenobia, was faraibar witb Greek, Latin, Syriac, 
and Egyptian; and it may be presumed from the notion which 
prevailed among some Christian writers of her being a Jewess, 
that she was also acquainted with Hebrew or its kindred 
tongues.* ^I ost of the Eoman Emperors were able indifferently 
to speak Greek or Latin. 

Themedieeval sovereigns, with the exception of Frederic II., 
referred to in a former page,i- and the great and learned Pojjc 
Sylvester II., better known by his family name Gerbert,:}; share, 
as linguists, the common mediocrity of the age. The learned 
Princess Anna Comnena does not appear at all distinguished 
in this particular ; Charlemagne's reputation rests on his 
acquaintance with Latin, and perhaps also Greek; and our 
own Alfred was regarded as a notable example of success, 
although there is no evidence that his linguistic attainments 
extended beyond a knowledge of Latin. 

• Jost's Geschichte der Israel iten, VI., 166, 

t P. 15. The example and patronage of Frederic tended much to 
promote the rivival of Oriental studies. Many of ihe earliest version 
of the works of Aristotle from the Arabic, were made under his 
auspices or those of his son Manfred ; among others (compare Jour- 
dain's " Recherches surles Traductions Latines d'Aristote," p. 124, 
Paris 1843; also AVhewell's " History of the Inductive Sciences," I., 
p. 343;) that of Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie, a learned Orien- 
talist and an accomplished general scholar, although his traditionary 
character is that of " the wizard Michael Scott." His namesake. 

Sir Walter, has immortalized him, not as a scholar, but as 

" A wizard of such dreaded fame, 
That when, in Salamanca's cave. 
Him listed his magic wand to wave 
The bells would ring in Notre Dame !" 
Roger Bacon's skill in Arabic and other Eastern tongues was 
probably one of the causes which drew upon him the same evil 
reputation. I should have mentioned Bacon among the few notable 
mediaeval linguists. He was "an industrious student of Hebrew, 
Arabic, Greek, and the modern tongues. (Milman's Latin Christianity, 
VI., p. 477). Perhaps I ought also to have named Albert the Great 
(Ibid., p. 453) ; but I am rather disposed to believe that the know- 
ledge which he had of Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic authors, was 
derived from Latin versions, and not from the original works 

X Gerbert travelled to Spain with the express purpose of studying 
in the Arabian schools. See Hock's " Sylvester II., und sein 
Jalirhundcrt ♦" also Whewell's " Inductive Sciences," L, 273. 


Very early, however, after the revival of letters, Matthias 
Corvinus, the learned and munificent King of Hungary, attained 
a rank as a linguist not unworthy of a later day. Besides the 
learned languages, he was also acquainted with most of the 
living tongues of Europe. Charles V. knew and spoke five 
languages.* Henry VIIT. spoke four. Several of the Eoman 
Pontiffs, particularly Paul IV., in other respects also a most 
remarkable scholnr,i- and the great Benedict XIV., were learned 
Orientalists, as well as good general linguists. The house of 
Stuart was eminent for the gift of tongues. The ill-fated Mary 
of Scotland spoke n^ost of the European languages. James I., 
her son, with all his silly pedantry, was by no means 
a contemptible linguist. His grandson, Charles II., spoke 
French and Spanish fluently ; and his brilliant grand-daughter, 
Eh'zabeth of Bavaria, who alone, according to Descartes, of 
all her contemporaries, was able to understand the Cartesian 
philosophy, was mistress, besides many scientific and literary 
accomplishments, of no fewer than six languages. J Christina 
of Sweden surpassed her in one particular. She knew as many 
as eight languages, the major part of which she spoke fluently. 

Nor are the courts of our own day without examples of the 
same acquirement. The late Emperor of Russia spoke five 
languages. Several of the reigning sovereigns of Europe, 
Queen Victoria, Alexander of Russia, and Napoleon III. 
among the number, enjoy the reputation of excellent linguists. 
The young Emperor of Austria is an accomplished classical 
scholar, and a perfect master of French, and of all the languages 
of his own vast empire — German, Italian, Hungarian, Czechish, 
and Servian ! Prince Lewis Lucian Bonaparte is a distinguished 
philologer, as well as a skilful linguist. His " Polyglot Parable 
of the Sower" is an interesting contribution to the former 
science. Even the remote kingdom of Siam furnishes, in its 
two Royal brothers, the First and the Second King, an example 
more deserving of praise than would be a far higher success 
in a more favoured land. The First King, Soradetch Phra 
Paramendt Maha Mongkut,§ has evinced a degree of intel- 

* Buret's Thrcsor, p. 963. 

I Paul IV. is mentioned by Cancellieri, as having known the entire 
Bible by heart. He names several other men, fone of them blind,) 
and six ladies, who could do the same ; he tells of one man who could 
repeat it in Hebrew. 

X Kemble's Social and Political State of Europe, p. 9. 

§ His full name is " Phra Bard Somdetch Phra Paramendt Maha 


lectual activity, rare indeed among the potentates of the East. 
Besides the ancient language and literature of his own kingdom, 
and all its modern dialects and sub-divisions, he knows Sanscrit, 
Cingalese, and Peguan. From tlie Catholic missionaries, 
especially Bishop Pallegoix, he has learned Latin and also 
Greek, and from the American Baptists, English. His letters, 
though sometimes unidiomatical, are highly characteristic, and 
display much intelligence and ability. He is also well versed 
in European sciences, especially astronomy and mechanics. 
He has formed, moreover, a very considerable collection of 
astronomical and philosophical apparatus ; has established 
printing and lithographic presses in the palace ; and has im- 
ported steam machinery of various kinds from America. It is 
gratifying to add that his brother, the Second King, shares all 
his tastes, and is treading worthily in his footsteps. 

A still more attractive topic would be the long line of Lady- 

It is not a little remarkable that, among the sovereigns who 
have distinguished themselves as linguists, the proportion of 
queens is very considerable. The three names, Cleopatra, 
Zenobia, and Christina of Sweden, unquestionably represent a 
larger aggregate of languages than any three of the king- 
linguists, if we exclude Mithridates. 

Nor are the humbler lady-linguists unworthy this companion- 
ship. The nun Eoswitha, of Gandesheim, still favourably 
known by her sacred Latin poetry, was also acquainted with 
Greek — a rare accomplishment in the tenth century. Tarquinia 
Molza, grand-daughter of the gifted, but licentious poet of the 
same name, knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as the 
ordinary modern languages. Elena Coriiaro Piscopia knew 
Italian, Spanish, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and even 
Arabic^ Nay, strange as it may seem in modern eyes, the 
university of Bologna numbers several ladies among the occu- 
pants of its pulpits. The beautiful Novella d'Andrea, daughter 
of the great jurist, Giovanni d'Andrea, professor of law in the 

Mongkut Phra Chom Klau Chau Hu Yua." Bowring's Siam, (Dedi- 
cation.) The account of the king is most interesting. 

• Valery. Voyage Litteraiie de I'ltalie, p. 237. I have just 
met a modern parallel for her. The brilliant Mme. Henrietta Herz, 
according to her new biographer. Dr. Fiirst, knew Hebrew, 
Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, English, and Swe- 
dish, besides a slight knowledge of Sanscrit, Turkish, and Malay — 
*' Henriette Herz, ihre Leben und Erinnerurgen," Berlin, 1858. 


University of Bologna in tlie loth century, was wont to take 
her father's place as lecturer on law ; observing, however, the 
precaution of using a veil, lest her beauty should distract the 
attention of her pupils. Her mother Milancia, scarcely less 
learned, was habitually consulted by Giovanni on all questions 
of special difficulty wiiich arose."*^ Laura Bassi held the chair 
of philosophy in more modern times.f Clotilda Tambroni, 
the last and not the least distinguished of the lady professors 
of Bologna, has, besides her literary glories, the honour of 
having suffered in the cause of loyalty and religion. Like her 
friend and fellow professor, Mezzofanti, she refused, on the 
occupation of Bologna by the French, to take the oaths of the 
new government, and was deprived of the professorship of 
Greek in consequence. 

The learned ladies of Bologna are not alone among their coun- 
trywomen. The celebrated Dominican nun, Cassandra Fedele 
of Venice ; Alessandra Scala of Florence ; and Olympia Fulvia 
Morata of Ferrara, are all equally distinguished as proficients 
in at least two learned languages, Latin and Greek. Mar- 
gherita Gaetana Agnesi, of Milan, was famihar with Latin at 
nine years of age ; and, while still extremely young, mastered 
Greek and Hebrew, together with French, Spanish, and 
German. In the very meridian of her fame, nevertheless, 
she renounced the brilliant career which lay open to her, in 
order to devote herself to God as a Sister of Charity. Another 
fair Italian, Modesta Pozzo, born at Venice in 1555, deserves 
to be mentioned, although she is better known for her extraor- 
dinary powers of memory, than her skill in languages. J She 
was able to repeat the longest sermon after hearing it but once. 
Nor are we without examples, although perhaps not so nu- 
merous, in other countries. Many Spanish and Portuguese 
ladies learned in languages, are enumerated by Nicholas de 
Antonio, § Dona Anna de Villegas, and D. Cecilia di Arel- 
lano, besides being excellent Latinists, were mistresses of 
French, Italian, and Portuguese. || To these languages D. 

• Tiraboschi Storia, Vol. V., p. 358. 

f Valery, 237. Fleck (Wisbenschaftliche Reise II., p. 97) says 
Anatomy ; but this is a mistake. There is a very interesting sketch 
of Laura Bassi in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, New Series, Vol . 
XII., pp. 31-2. She was solemnly admitted to the degree of Doctor 
of Philosophy in 1732. 

J Cancellieri, "Uomini di gran Memoria." 

S In the Bibliotheca Hispana, Vol. IV., pp. 344-53. 

ii Ibid, p. 345. 


Cecilia (le iMorellas added Greek as one of lier accomplish- 
ments,* and D. Juliana de Morell, a nun of the Douiinican 
order in the middle of the seventeenth century, in addition to 
these languages, was not only a learned Hebraist, but an acute 
and skilful disputant in the philosophy of the schools.t 

The accomplished Anna Maria Schurmann, of whom Cologne 
is still justly proud, in addition to her numerous gifts in paint- 
ing, sculpture, music, and poetry, was mistress of eight lan- 
guages, among which were Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and 

The brilliant, but eccentric Russian Princess Dashkoff, holds 
a still more prominent place in the world of letters. The early 
friend and confidant of the Empress Catherine, and (with a 
hw alternations of disfavour,) the sharer of most of the literary 
projects of that extraordinary woman, the Princess Dashkotf 
had the (for a lady rare) honour of holding the place of Pre- 
sident of the Russian Academy. When the Dictionary of the 
Academy was projected, she actually undertook, in her own 
person, three letters of the work, together with the general 
superintendence of the entire ! The princess was not unfa- 
miliar with the learned languages, some of which she not only 
spoke but wrote : but her chief attainments were in those of 
modern Europe. Her autobiographical Memoirs appear to 
have been written in French ; and the English letters embodied 
in the work prove her to have possessed a thorough knowledge 
of that language also. 

Some of our own countrywomen, if less showy, may per- 
haps advance a more solid title to distinction. The beauti- 
ful Mrs. Carter, translator of Epictetus, well deserves to be 
mentioned ; and the amiable and singularly gifted Elizabeth 
Smith, is a not unmeet consort for the most eminent linguists 
of any age. " With scarcely any assistance," writes her biogra- 
pher, Mrs. Bowdler, to Dr. Mummsen,J " she taught her- 
self the Prench, Italian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, and 
Hebrew languages. She had no inconsiderable knowledge 
of Arabic and Persian." Her translation of the Book of Job 
is a permanent evidence that her knowledge of Hebrew was of 
no ordinary kind. 

• Bibliotheca Hispana, vol. IV. p. 346. 

•j- P. S46. An ode of Lope Vega's in her praise describes her as a 
" fourth Grace," and a " tenth Muse" — " que as hecho quatre las Gra- 
cias y las Musas diez." 

X Fraj);ments in Prose and Verse, by Elizabeth Smith. Witli a 
Life by Mrs. Bowdler, (Bath, 1810,) p. 264. 


Even tlie New World has supplied some names to 
this interesting catalogue. The Mexican poetess, Juana Inez 
de la Cruz, better known as the " Nun of Mexico," (1651- 
95), a marvel of precocious knowledge, learned Latin in 
twenty lessons, when a mere girl ; and quickly became such 
a proficient as to speak it with ease and fluency. Her 
acquisitions in general learning were most various and 
extensive ; and when on one occasion, in her seventeenth year, 
forty learned men of Mexico were invited to dispute with her, 
she proved a match for each in his own particular department. 
All these accomplishments, notwithstanding, she had the hu- 
mihty to bury in the obscurity of a convent in Mexico, where 
she silently devoted herself for twenty-seven years to literature 
and religion. She died in 1695, leaving behind many works 
still regarded as classics in the language, which fill no less than 
three 4to. volumes, and have passed through twelve successive 
editions in Spain. All, with the exception of two, are on sa- 
cred subjects.^ 

"Infant Phenomena" of language would supply another cu- 
rious and fertile topic for inquiry — an inquiry too in a psy- 
chological point of view eminently interesting. 

Many of the great linguists enumerated in this Memoir, 
■ Pico of Mirandola, Crichton, Martin del Eio, and several others, 
owed part of their celebrity to the marvelous precociousness of 
their gifts. A far larger proportion, however, of those who 
prematurely displayed this talent, were cut ofE before it liad 
attained any mature or healthy development. 

Cancellierit mentions a child named Jacopo Martino,:}: born 
at Racuno, in the Venetian territory, in 1639, who not only 
acquired a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, between the age 
of three and seven, but made such progress in philosophical 
science as successfully to maintain a public thesis in pliilosophy 
at Rome, when no more than eight years of age.§ This ex- 
traordinary child, however, died of exhaustion in 1649, before 
he had completed his ninth year. 

It was tlie same for Claudio del Yalle y Hernandez, a Spa- 
nish prodigy, mentioned by the same author. 

* Knight's Cyclopaedia of Biography, II. 419. 

f " Sugli Uomini di gran Memoria," pp. 72-80. 

X His family name seems unknown ; his father, who was afacchino, 
(or porter,) being called simply // Modenese. 

§ So marvellous was his performance, that it was seriously ascribed 
to the Devil by Candido Brognolo, in his " Alexicacon," (Venice 
1663), and Padre Cardi thought it not beneath him to publish » 
formal reply to this charge. 



But probably the most extiaordiiiary examples of this psy- 
chological j)henomenon upon record, occur, by a curious co- 
incidence, almost at the very same date in the commence- 
ment of the eighteenth century. Within the three years, from 
1719 to 1721, were born in difl'ereut countries, three children 
of a precociousness (even though we accept the traditions re- 
garding them with great deductions,) entirely without parallel 
in history. 

The first of these, John Lewis Candiac, was born at Nismes, 
in 1719. This strangely gifted child, we are told, was able, 
in his third year, to speak not only his native French but also 
Latin. Before he was six years old he spoke also Greek and 
Hebrew. He was well versed, besides, in arithmetic, geogra- 
phy, ancient and modern history, and even heraldry.* But, 
as might be expected, these premature efforts quickly exhausted 
his overtaxed powers, and he died of water on the brain in 
1726, at seven years of age. 

Christian Henry Heinecken, a child of equal promise, was 
cut off even more prematurely. He was born at Lubeck in 
1721. He is said to have been able to speak at ten months 
old. By the time he attained his twelfth month, he had lear- 
ned, if his biographers can be credited, all the facts in the his- 
tory of the Pentateuch.t In another month he added to this all 
the rest of the history of the old Testament ; and, when he 
was but fourteen months old, he was master of all the leading 
facts of the Bible ! At two and a half years of age, he spoke 
fluently, besides his native German, the French and Latin lan- 
guages. In this year he was presented at the Danish court, 
where he excited universal astonishment. But, on his return 
home, he fell sick and died in his fourth year. 

The third of these marvels of precocity, John Phihp 
Baratier, who is probably known to many readers by Johnson's 
interesting memoir,J was born at Anspach in the same year 
with Heinecken, 1721. His career, however, was not so brief, 
nor were its fruits so ephemeral, as those of the ill-fated 
children just named. When Baratier was only four years old, 
he was able to speak Latin, French, and German. At six he 
spoke Greek ; and at nine Hebrew ; in which latter language 
the soundness of his attainments is attested by a lexicon which 
he published in his eleventh year. Nor was Baratier a mere 

• Feller, III. 132, 

t Ibid, p. 70. 

X Johnsons's Works, VI. p. 368-7-t. 


linguis^t. He is said to have mastered elementary mathematics 
in three months^ and to have qualified himself by thirteen 
month's study for the ordinary thesis maintained at taking out 
the degree of Doctor of Laws. He was also well versed in 
architecture, in ancient and modern literature, in antiquities, 
and even the uncommon science of numismatics. He transla- 
ted from the Hebrew Benjamin of Tudela's " Itinerary." He 
published a detailed and critical account of the Rabbinical 
Bible ; and communicated to several societies elaborate papers 
on astronomical and mathematical subjects. This extraordinary 
youth died at the age of nineteen in 1760. 

Later* in the same century was born at Rome a child named 
Giovanni Cristoforo Amaduzzi,t if not quite so precocious as 
this extraordinary trio, at least of riper intellect, and destined 
to survive for greater distinction and for a more useful career. 
The precise dates of his various attainments do not appear to 
be chronicled ; but, when he was only twelve years old, he 
published a poetical translation of the Hecuba of Euripides, 
which excited universal surprise ; and a few years later, on 
the visit of the Emperor Joseph II. and his brother Leopold 
to Rome, he addressed to the Emperor a polyglot ode of wel- 
come in Greek, Latin, Italian, and French. His after studies, 
however, were more serious and more practical. He is well- 
known, not only as a linguist, but also as a philologer of some 
merit ; and in his capacity of corrector of the Propaganda 
Oriental Press, a post which he filled till his death, in 175)2, 
he rendered many important services to Oriental studies.^ 

It would be interesting too, and not without its advantage 
in reference to the history of the human mind, to collect 
examples of what may be called LFneducated Linguists ; of 

' The Biographic Universelle places Amaduzzi's birth (curiously 
enough for its coincidence with those of the three just mentioned), 
in 17"20; but this is a mistake; he was seventeen years old at the visit 
of Joseph II. to Rome, in 1767. His birth therefore must be as- 
signed to 1750. 

+ Cancellieri, pp. 84-7. 

X The learned patristical scholar, John Baptist Cotelier, (Cotele. 
rius,) is another example of precocious development leading to solid 
fruit. At twelve years of age Cotelier could read and translate 
fluently any part of the Bible that was opened for him ! I may also 
recall here the case of Dr. Thomas Young, of whom I have already 
.spoken. His eai-ly feat of reading the entire Bible twice through 
before he was four months old, is hardly less wonderful than any of 
those above recorded. See National Review, vol. II. p. 69. 


Dragomans, Couriers, " Lohnbedienter," and others^, who, 
ignorant of all else besides, have acquired a facility almost 
marvelous of speaking several languages fluently, and in many 
cases with sufficient seeming accuracy. 

Perhaps this is the place to mention the once notorious (to 
use his own favourite designation) " Odcombian Leg-stretcher," 
Tom Coryat, a native of Odcombe in Somersetshire (1577-1617), 
and author of the now rare volume, " Coryat's Crudities."t 
Coryat may fairly be described as " an uneducated linguist ;" 
for, although he passed through Westminster School, and 
afterwards entered Gloucester Hall, Oxford, the languages 
which he learned were all picked up, without regular study, 
during his long pedestrian wanderings in every part of the 
world ; one of which, of nearly two thousand miles, he accom- 
plished in a single pair of shoes, (which he hung up in 
the church of Odcombe as a votive offering on his return), 
and another, of no less than two thousand seven hundred, 
at a cost of about three pounds sterling ! This strange genius 
acquired, in a sufficient degree for all the wants of conversation, 
Italian, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and Hindustani ! 

Another singularity of the same kind was Robert Hill, the 
Jewish tailor, whom Speuce has made the subject of an exceed- 

* A vocalist, named H. K. von Freher, has appeared recently, who 
advertises to sing in thirty-six different languages ! He is a native 
of Hungary. With how many of these languages, however, he pro- 
fesses to be acquainted, and what degree of familiarity he claims 
with each, I am unable to say ; but he is described in the public 
journals as " speaking English with purity ;" and in one of his 
iatei^t performances he favoured the audience with " portions of 
songs in no less than three or four and twenty diff'erent languages, 
commencing with a Russian hymn, and proceeding on with a French 
romance, a Styrian song, a Polish air, which he screeched most amu- 
singly, a Sicilian song, as dismal as the far-famed Vespers of that 
country, a Canadian ditty, a Hungarian serenade, a Maltese air 
a Bavarian, a Neapolitan barcarole, a Hebrew psalm, a Tyrolean 
air, in which the rapid changes from the basso profondo to the 
falsetto had a most singular effect." 

t The title of this singular volume is worth transcribing: " Coryat 'a 
Crudities, hastily gobbled up in five months' Travels in France, Savoy, 
Italy, Rhetia, (commonly called the Orisons' Country), Helvetia, 
alias Switzerland, some parts of High Germany, and the Netherlands ; 
newly digested in the hungry air of Odcombe in the county of Somer- 
setshire, and now dispersed to the Nourishment of the travelling 
Jlembers of this Kingdom." 4to. London, 1611. It is further 
noticeable in this place for a polyglot appendix of quizzical verses in 
Creek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, French, Welsh, Irish, Macaronic, 
and Utopian, " by various hands." 


ingly curious parallel with Magliabecchi.* And many similar 
examples might doubtless be collected among the couriers, 
interpreters, and valets-de-place of most of the European 
capitals. Baron von Zacii mentions an ordinary valet-de-place 
who could speak nearly all the European languages with the 
greatest ease and correctness, although he was utterly ignorant 
not only of the grammar of every one of them, but even of 
that of bis own language. I have already said that the same 
species of talent is hereditary in several families in different 
ports and cities of the Levant. 

The history of such cases as these, if it were possible to 
investigate it accurately, might throw light on the operations 
of the mind in the acquisition of languages. These, however, 
and many similar topics, interesting and curious as they are 
for their own sake, have but little bearing on the present 
inquiry; the purpose of which is simply to prepare the way 
for a fitting estimate of the attainments of the illustrious 
subject of the following Biography, by placing in contrast with 
them the gifts of others who, at various times, have risen to 
eminence in the same department. Cardinal Mezzofanti will 
be found to stand so immeasurably above even the highest 
of these names, in the de})artment of language, that, at least 
for the purposes of comparison with him, its minor celebrities 
can possess little claim for consideration. 

• J vol. ]2mo , printed at Strawberry Hall, 1758, and re-printed 
in Dodsley's Collections, 1761. 







A Memoir of Cardinal Mezzofanti can be little more 
than a philological essay. Quiet and uneventful as 
was his career, its history possesses few of the ordi- 
nary attractions of Biography. The main interest of 
such a narrative must consist in the light which it 
may tend to throw on the curious problem ; — what 
degree of perfection the human mind, concentrating 
its powers upon one department of knowledge, is ca- 
pable of attaining therein ; and the highest hope of 
the author is tP escape the reproach which Warbur- 
ton directed against Boileau's biographer, Desmai- 
seaux, of having " written a book without a life." 

Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti,* was born at Bologna.f 

* This name was afterwards the subject of a punning epigram. 
Mezzofanti is a compound word, (like the names Mezzabarba, Mez- 
zavacca. Mezzomorto, &c.,) and means half-child, [Mezzo-Fante.] 
Hence the following distich : — 

Dimidium Fantis jann nunc supereminct omnes ! 
Quid, credis, fieret, si integer ipse foret ? 
•f In the Via Malcontenti. The house still exists, but has been 
entirely remodelled. An inscription for the apartment in which 
Mezzofanti was born was composed by D. Vincenzo Mignani : — 
Heic Mezzofantus natus, notissimus Orbi, 
Unus qui linguas calluit omnigenas. 
Some years later Francis Mezzofanti removed to a house on the 


on the 17th of September, 1774.* His father, 
Francis Mezzofunti, a native of the same city, was of 
very humble extraction, and by trade a carpenter. 
Though almost entirely uneducated,f Francis Mezzo- 
fanti is described by the few who remember him, as 
a man of much shrewdness and intelligence, a skil- 
ful mechanic, and universally respected for his inte- 
grity, piety, and honourable principles. For Mez- 
zofanti*s mother, Gesualda Dall' Olmo, a higher line- 
age has been claimed ; — the name of Dall' 01mo| 
being extremely ancient and not undistinguished in 
the annals of Bologna ; but the fortunes of the im- 
mediate branch of that family from which Gesualda 
Dair Olmo sprung, were no less humble than those 
of her husband. Her education, however, was some- 
what superior ; and with much simplicity and sweet- 
ness of disposition, she united excellent talents, great 
prudence and good sense, and a profoundly religious 

opposite side of the same street, in which he thenceforward conti- 
nued to reside. This house also is still in existence, but has been 
raodernized. In the early part of the year 1800, Mezzofanti estab- 
lished himself, together with the family of his sister, Signora Mina- 
relli, in a separate house, situated however in the same street : but, 
from the time of his appointment as Librarian, in 1815, till his final 
removal to Rome, he occupied the Librarian's apartments in the 
Palazzo Deir Universita. 

* There has been some diversity of statement as to the year. The 
Enciclopedia Popolare (Turin 1851, supp. p. 299,) hesitates between 
1774 and 1771. But there can be no doubt that it was the former. 

t He merely leai'ned to read and write. 

} Antonio Dall' Olmo was a professor in the University so far 
back as 1360. Sec Tiraboschi, "Letteratura Italiana," V. p. 56. 


Of tliis marriage were born several children ; but 
they all died at an early age, except a daughter named 
Teresa, and Joseph Caspar, the subject of the present 
biography. Teresa was the senior by ten years, and, 
while her brother was yet a boy, married a young 
man named Joseph Lewis Minarelli,* by trade a 
hair dresser, to whom she bore a very numerous fa- 
mily,! several of whom still survive. To the kind 
courtesy of one of these, the Cavaliere Pietro Mina- 

* Mingarelli has been a distinguished name in Bolognese letters. The 
two brothers, Ferdinand and John Lewis, were among the most di- 
ligent patristical students of the last century. To the latter (of 
whom I shall have to speak hereafter,) we are indebted for a learned 
edition of the lost ni|< Tg<«3«f of the celebrated Didymus, the blind 
teacher of Alexandria ; the former also is spoken of with high praise 
by Tiraboschi, VII., 1073. This family, however, is different 
from that of Minarelli, with which Mezzofanti was connected. 

t No fewer than eleven sons and four daughters. Of the sons only 
two are now living — the Cavaliere Pietro Minarelli, who is a physi. 
cian and member cf the Medical Faculty of Bologna, and the Cava- 
liere Gaetano, an advocate and notary. A third son, Giuseppe, em- 
braced the ecclesiastical profession in which he rose to considerable 
distinction. He was a linguist of some reputation, being acquainted 
with no fewer than eight languages, (see the Cantica di G. Marocco, 
p. 12, note,) an accomplishment which he owed mainly to the instruc- 
tion of his uncle. Some time after the departure of the latter for 
Rome, Giuseppe was named Rector of the University of Bo- 
logna, and honorary Domestic Prelate of the Pope Gregory XVI., 
but he died at a comparatively early age in 1843. A fourth son, 
Filippo, became an architect, but was disabled by a paralytic attack 
from prosecuting his studies, and died after a lingering and painful 
illness, July 23rd, 1839. The other sons died in childhood. The 
four daughters, Maria, Anna, Gesu&lda, and Gertrude, still survive. 
Maria and Gertrude married — the first. Signer Mazzoli, the second, 
Signor Calori — and are now widows. Anna and Gesualda are un- 
married. The former resided with her uncle, from the time of his 
elevation to the cardinalate till his death. She is said to be an 


relli, I am indebted for a few particulars of the family 
history, and of the early years of his venerated 

It may be supposed that in the case of Mezzofanti, 
as in those of most men who attain to eminence in 
life, there are not wanting marvelous tales of his 
youthful studies, and anecdotes of the first indications 
of the extraordinary gift by which his later years 
were distinguished. 

According to one of these accounts, his first years 
were entirely neglected, and he was placed, while 
yet a mere child, in the workshop of his father, to 
learn the trade of a carpenter. As is usual in the 
towns of Italy, the elder Mezzofanti, for the most 
part, plied his craft not within doors, but in the open 

accomplished painter in water-colours. Her sister, Gesualda, is an 
excellent linguist. 

* I take the earliest opportunity to express my most grateful ac- 
knowledgment of the exceeding courtesy, not only of the Oavaliere 
Minarelli and other members of Cardinal Mezzofanti's family, but 
of many other gentlemen of Bologna, Parma, Modena, Florence, 
Rome, and Naples. I must mention with especial gratitude the 
Abate Mazza, Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Seminary, at Bologna ; 
Cavaliere Angelo Pezzana, Librarian of the Ducal Library, at Par- 
ma ; Cavaliere Cavedoni, Librarian of Modena ; Professor Guasti at 
Florence ; Padre Bresciani, the distinguished author of the " Ebreo 
di Verona," at Rome ; the Rector and Vice-Rector of the Irish Col- 
lege, and the Rector and Vice-Rector of the English College in the 
same city ; and Padre Vinditti of the Jesuit College at Naples. For 
some personal recollections of Mezzofanti and his early friends, and 
for other interesting information obtained from Bologna, I am in- 
debted to Dr. Santagata, to Mgr. Trombetti, and to the kind 
offices of the learned Archbishop of Tarsus, Mgr. De Luca, Apos- 
tolic Nuncio at Munich. 


street : and it chanced that the bench at which the 
boy was wont to work was situated directly oppo- 
site the window of a school kept by an old priest, 
who instructed a number of pupils in Latin and 
Greek. Although utterly unacquainted, not only 
with the Greek alphabet, but even with that of his 
own language, young Mezzofanti, overhearing the les- 
sons which were taught in the school, caught up 
every Greek and Latin word that was explained in 
the several classes, without once having seen a'Greek 
or Latin book ! By some lucky accident the fact 
came to the knowledge of his unwitting instructor : 
it led of course to the withdrawal of the youth from 
the mechanical craft to which his father had destined 
him, and rescued him for the more congenial pursuit 
of literature.* 

A still more marvellous tale is told by a popular 
American writer, Mr. Headley, whom his transatlan- 
tic admirers have styled the " Addison of America ;" 
that while Mezzofanti " was still an obscure priest in 
the north of Italy, he was called one day to confess 
two foreigners condemned for piracy, who were to be 
executed next day. On entering their cell, he found 
tliem unable to understand a word he uttered. 
Overwhelmed with the thought that the criminals 
should leave the world without the benefits of religion, 
he returned to his room, resolved to acquire the lan- 

• This anecdote was told to Cardinal Wiseman by the late Arch- 
deacon Hare, as current in Bologna during the residtnce of his 
family in that city. The Archdeacon's brother, Mr. Francis Hare, 
was intimately acquainted with Mezzofanti during his early life, and 
was for some time his pupil. 


guage before morning. He accomplished his task, 
and next day confessed them in their own tongue ! 
From that time on, he had no trouble in mastering 
the most difficult language. The purity of his mo- 
tive in the first instance, he thought, influenced the 
Deity to assist him miraculously."* This strange 
tale Mr. Headley relates, on the authority of a priest, 
a friend of Mezzofanti ; and he goes so far as to say, 
that '* ]\Iezzofanti himself attributed his power of 
acquiring languages to the divine influence."! 

The imagination might dwell with pleasure upon 
these and similar tales of wonder ; but, happily for 
the moral lesson which it is the best privilege of bio- 
graphy to convey, the true history of the early stu- 
dies of Mezzofanti, (although while falling far short 
of these marvels, it is too wonderful to be held out 
as a model even for the most aspiring) is, neverthe- 
less, such as to show that the most gifted themselves 
can only hope to attain to true eminence by patient 
and systematic industry. 

Far from being entirely neglected, as these tales 
would imply, Mezzofanti's education commenced at 
an unusually early period. His parents — 

A virtuous household, but exceeding poor, 

conscious of their own want of learning, appear, 
from the very first, to have bestowed upon the edu- 
cation of their son all the care which their narrow 
circumstances permitted According to an account 

* Headiev's " Lettei's from Italy," pp. lo-2-3. 
t Ibid, p. 152, 


obtained from tlie Cavalierc; ISIinarelli, he was sent, 
while a mere child, not yet three years old, to a 
dame's school, more, it would seem, for security, than 
for actual instruction. Being deemed too young to 
be regularly taught, he was here left for a time to sit 
in quiet and amuse himself as best he could, while the 
other children were receiving instruction ; but the 
mistress soon discovered that the child, although ex- 
cluded from the lessons of his elders, had learned 
without any effort, all that had been communicated 
to them, and was able to repeat promptly and accu- 
rately the tasks which she had dictated. He was 
accordingly admitted to the regular classes; and, 
child as he was, passed rapidly through the various 
elementary branches of instruction, to which alone 
her humble school extended. 

From this dame's school he was removed to the 
more advanced, but still elementary, school of the 
Abate Filippo Cicotti, in which he learned grammar, 
geography, writing, arithmetic, algebra, and the ele- 
ments of Latin. But, after some time, the excellent 
priest who conducted this school, honestly advised the 
parents, young as was their boy, to remove him to 
another institution, and to permit him to apply him- 
self unrestrainedly to the higher studies for which 
he was already fully qualified. 

His father appears to have demurred for a while 
to this suggestion. Limiting his views in reference to 
the boy to the lowly sphere in which he himself had 
been born, he had only contemplated bestowing upon 
him a solid elementary education in the branches 


of knowledge suited to its humble requirements ; 
and, with the old-fashioned prejudices not uncommon 
in his rank, he was unwilling to sanction his son's 
entering upon what appeared to him an unnatural 
and unprofitable career, for one w^ho was destined to 
earn his bread by a mechanical art. Fortunately, 
however, his wife entertained higher and more en- 
lightened views for their child, and understood better 
his character and capabilities. 

It was mainly, however, through the counsel and 
influence of a benevolent priest of the Oratory, Fa- 
ther John Baptist Respighi, that the career of the 
young Mezzofanti was decided. This excellent cler- 
gyman, to whom many deserving youths of his na- 
tive city w^ere indebted for assistance and patronage 
in their entrance into life, observed the rare talents 
of Mezzofanti, and, by his earnest advice, promptly 
overruled the hesitation of his father. At his recom- 
mendation, the boy was transferred from the school 
of the Abate Cicotti, to one of the so-called " Scuole 
Pie," of Bologna ; — schools conducted by a religious 
congregation, which had been founded in the begin- 
ning of the seventeenth century, by Joseph Gaza, 
lana ; and which, though originally intended chiefly 
for the more elementary branches of education, had 
also been directed with great success, (especially in 
tlie larger cities,) to the cultivation of the higher 

Among the clergymen who at this period devoted 
themselves to the service of the Scuole Pie, at Bolog- 
na, were several members of the recently suppressed 


society of the Jesuits, not only of tlie Roman, but 
also of the Spanish and Spanish American provinces. 
The expulsion of the society from Spain had preceded 
by more than three years the general suppression of 
the order ; and the Spanish members of the brother- 
hood, when exiled from their native country, had 
found a cordial welcome in the Papal states. Among 
these were several who were either foreigners by 
birth, or had long resided in the foreign missions of 
the society. To them all the Scuole Pie seemed to 
open a field of labour almost identical with that of 
their own institute. Many of them gladly e4ii braced 
the opportunity ; and it can hardly be doubted that 
the facility of learning a variety of languages, which 
this accidental union of instructors from so many 
d liferent countries afforded, was, after his own natu- 
ral bias, among the chief circumstances which deter- 
mined the direction of the youthful studies of Mez- 

One of these ex-Jesuits, Father Emanuel Aponte, 
a native of Spain, had been for many years a meml^er 
of the mission of the Philippine Islands. Another, 
Father Mark Escobar, was a native of Guatemala, and 
had been employed in several of the Mexican and 
South American missions of the society. A third. Fa- 
ther Laurence Ignatius Thiulen, had passed through a 
still more remarkable career. He was a native of 
Gottenburg, in Sweden, where his father held the 
office of superintendent of the Swedish East India 
Company, and had been born (1746,) a Lutheran. 
Leaving home in early youth with the design of 


improving himself by foreign travel, he spent some 
time in Lisbon, and afterwards in Cadiz, in 1768 ; 
whence, with the intention of proceeding to Italy, he 
embarked for the island of Corsica, in the same ship 
in which he had reached Lisbon from his native 
country. In the meantime, however, this ship had 
been chartered by the government as one of the fleet 
in which the Jesuit Fathers, on their sudden and 
mysterious suppression in Spain, were to be trans- 
ported to Italy. By this unexpected accident, Thiulen 
became the fellow passenger of several of the exiled 
fathers. Trained from early youth to regard with 
suspicion and fear every member of that dreaded 
order, he at first avoided all intercourse with his Jesuit 
fellow passengers. By degrees, however, their unob- 
trusive, but ready courtesy, disarmed his suspicions. 
He became interested in their conversation, even 
when it occasionally turned upon religious topics. 
Serious inquiry succeeded ; and in the end, before 
the voyage was concluded, his prejudices had been so 
far overcome, that he began to entertain the design of 
becoming a Catholic. After his landing in the Island 
of Corsica, many obstacles were thrown in his way 
by the Swedish consul at Bastia, himself a Lutheran; 
but Thiulen persevered, and was enabled eventually 
to carry his design into execution at Ferrara, in 
1769. In the following year, 1770, he entered the 
Jesuit society at Bologna. He was here admitted 
to the simple vow in 1772. But he had hardly 
completed this important step, when the final sup- 
pression of the Order was proclaimed j and, although 


both as a foreigner, and as being unprofessed, he hud 
no claim to the slender pittance which was assigned 
for the support of the members, the peculiar circum- 
stances of his case created an interest in his behalf. 
He was placed upon the same footing with the pro- 
fessed Fathers ; and two years later, in 1770, he was 
promoted to the holy order of priesthood, and conti- 
nued to reside in Bologna, engaged in teaching and 
in the duties of the ministry.* 

These good Fathers, with that traditionary instinct 
which in their order has been the secret of their long 
admitted success in the education of youth, were not 
slow to discover the rare talents of their young scho- 
lar in the Scuole Pie. In a short time he appears to 
have become to them more a friend than a pupil. 
Two, at least, of the members. Fathers Aponte, 
and Thiulen, lived to Avitness the distinction of his 
later life, and with them, as well as with his first and 
kindest patron. Father Respighi, he ever continued to 
maintain the most friendly and affectionate relations. f 

It would be interesting to be able to trace the 
exact history of this period of the studies of Mezzofanti, 
and to fix the dates and the order of his successive 
acquisitions in what afterwards became the engrossing 

♦ He published a number of polemical and moral treatises, which are 
enumerated in the " Memorie di Religione," a journal published at 
Modena, vol IV., pp. 456-61, where will also be found an interesting 
memoir of the author. 

f Another name, Molina, is mentioned, as one of his early masters, 
in a rude poetical panegyric of the Cardinal, by an improvisatore 
named Giovanni Masocco : — " Per la illustre e sempre cara Memoria 
del Card. Giuseppe Mezzofanti, " [Roma 1849]. But I have not 
learned any particulars regarding this Molina. 


pursuit of his life. But, unfortunately, so few 
details can now be ascertained that it is difficult to 
distinguish his school life from that of an ordinary 
student. His chief teachers in the Scuole Pie appear 
to have been the ex-Jesuit Fathers already named ; 
of whom Father Thiulen was his instructor in his- 
tory, geography, arithmetic, and mathematics ;* 
Father Aponte in Greek ; and probably Father Es- 
cobar in Latin. As he certainly learned Spanish at 
an early period, it is not unlikely that he was indebt- 
ed for it, too, to the instructions of one of these 
ecclesiastics, as also perhaps for some knowledge of 
the Mexican or Central American languages. 

But although barren in details, all the accounts of 
his school-days concur in describing his uniform suc- 
cess in all his classes, and the extraordinary quickness 
of his memory. One of his feats of memory is 
recorded by M. Manavit.f A folio volume of the 
works of St. John Chrysostom being put into his 
hand, he was desired to read a page of the treatise 
" De Sacerdotio'' in the original Greek. After a 
single reading, the volume was closed, and he repeat- 
ed the entire page, without mistaking or displacing 
a single "word ! His manners and dispositions as a 
boy were exceedingly engaging ; and the friendships 
which he formed at school continued uninterrupted dur- 
ing life. Among his school companions there is one who 

• This at least was Thiulen's ordinary department. See the Me. 
morie di Religione, already cited. 

t Esquisse Historique sur le Cardinal Mezzofanti. Par A. Ma- 
nuvit. Paris, 1853, p. 15. 


deserves to be especially recorded — the Avell-known 
naturalist, Abate Camillo Ranzani, for many years 
afterwards Mezzofanti's fellow-professor in the uni- 
versity. Ranzani, like his friend, was of very hum- 
ble origin, and like him owed his withdrawal from 
obscurity to the enlightened benevolence of the good 
Oratorian, F. Respighi.* Young Ranzani was 
about the same age with Mezzofanti ; and as their 
homes immediately adjoined each other,f they had 
been daily companions almost from infancy, and par- 
ticularly from the time when they began to frequent 
the Scuole Pie in company. The constant allusions 
to Ranzani which occur in Mezzofanti's letters, will 
show how close and affectionate their intimacy conti- 
nued to be, 

Joseph Mezzofanti early manifested a desire to 
embrace the ecclesiastical profession ; and although 
this wish seems to have caused some dissatisfaction 
to his father, who had intended him for some secular 
pursuit,^ yet the deeply religious disposition of the 
child and his singular innocence of life, in the end 
overcame his father's reluctance. Having completed 
his elementary studies unusually early, he Avas ena- 
bled to become a scholar of the archiepiscopal semi- 
nary of Bologna, while still a mere boy, probably in 
the year 1786. § He continued, however, to reside 

• See the Memnrie di Religiorie, vo). XV., where an interesting 
biography of the Abate Ranzani will be found, 
t Manavit, " Escjuisse Historique," p. 9. 
t Ibid, p. 12. 

§ Manavit assigns a much later date, 1791. But the short me- 
moir by Signor Stoltz, [Biografia del Cardinal Me^zofanti; Scrit- 


in his father's house, wliile he attended the schools 
of the seminary. 

Of his collegiate career little is recorded, except 
an incident which occurred at the taking of his de- 
gree in philosophy. His master in this study was 
Joseph Voglio, a professor of considerable reputation, 
and author of several works on the philosophical 
controversies of the period.* It is usual in the Italian 
universities for the candidate for a philosophical 
degree, to defend publicly a series of propositions 
selected from the whole body of philosophy. Mezzo- 
fanti, at the time that he maintained his theses, was 
still little more than a child ; and it would seem 
that, his self-possession having given way under the 
public ordeal, he had a narrow escape from the mor- 
tificatian of a complete failure. One of the witnes- 

ta dall' Avvocato G. Stoltz, Roma 1851.] founded upon information 
supplied by the Cardinal's fauiily, wliich states that he had completed 
his philosophy when he was but fifteen, (p. 6,) is much more recon- 
cilable with facts otherwise ascertained. His philosophical course 
occupied three years. (See De Josepho Mezznfdutio, Serrnones Duo auc- 
tore Aiit. Santagata, published in the acts of the Institute of Bologna, 
vol. V. p. 169, et seq.) His theological course (probably of four,) 
was completed in 1796, or at farthest early in 1797. This would 
clearly have been impossible in the interval assigned by Manavit. 

• One of these, Hvflessioni sul Manuale dei Teufilantropi, is direct- 
ed against the singular half-religious, half-social confederation, 
entitled *' Theophilanthropists," founded in 1795, by La Reveillere- 
Lepeaux, one of the directors of the French Republic. These 
treatises are noticed in the Memorie di Reb'gione, 1822, 1823, and 
1824. Joseph Voglio is not to be confounded with the physiologist 
of the same name, (John Hyacinth,) who was also professor in Bo- 
logna, but in the previous generation. 


ses of his " Disputation," Dr. Santagata, in the Dis- 
course already referred to, delivered at the Institute 
of Bologna, gives an interesting account of the oc- 
currence. "For a time," says Dr. Santagata, "the boy's 
success was most marked. Each new objection, 
among the many subtle ones that were proposed, 
only afforded him a fresh opportunity of exhibiting 
the acuteness of his intellect, and the ease, fluency, 
and elegance of his Latinity ; and the admiring mur- 
murs of assent, and other unequivocal tokens of ap- 
plause which it elicited from the audience, of which 1 
myself wa5 one, seemed to promise a triumphant con- 
clusion of the exercise. But all at once the young 
candidate was observed to grow pale, to become sud- 
denly silent, and at length to fall back upon his seat 
and almost faint away. The auditors were deeply 
grieved at this untoward interruption of a perfor- 
mance hitherto so successful ; but they were soon re- 
lieved to see him, as if by one powerful effort, shake 
off his emotion, recover his self-possession, and resume 
his answering with even greater acuteness and 
solidity than before. He was greeted with the loud 
and repeated plaudits of the crowded assembly."* 

About this period, soon after Mezzofanti had coni- 
pleted his fifteenth year, his health gave way under 
this long and intense application ; and his constitu- 
tion for a time was so debilitated, that, at the termi- 
nation of his course of philosophy, he was compelled 
to interrupt his studies jf nor was it until about 

* " De Josepho Mezzofantio Sermones Duo," p. 172. 
t Manavit, p. ]3. 


1793, that he entered upon the theological course, 
under the direction of the Canon Joachim Ambrosi. 
One of his class-fellows, the Abate Monti, the vener. 
able arch-priest of Bagni di Poreta, in the archdio- 
cese of Bologna, still survives and speaks in high 
terms of the ability which he exhibited. He describes 
him as a youth of most engaging manners andaraia- 
l)le dispositions — one who, from his habitually serious 
and recollected air_, might perhaps be noted by 

For his grave looks, too thoughtful for his years, 
but who, to his friends, was all gaiety and innocent 
mirthfulness. Mgr. Monti adds that he was at this 
time a most laborious student, frequently remaining 
up Avhole nights in the library for the purpose of 
study. His master in moral theology was the Ca- 
nonico Baccialli, author of a Corpus Theologice Mo- 
ralls^ of some local reputation. 

Having completed the course of theology, and also 
that of canon law, he attended the lectures of the 
celebrated Jurist, Bonini, on Roman Law. The 
great body of the^ students of the school of Koman 
Law being laymen, the young ecclesiastic remained 
a considerable time unobserved and undistinguished 
in the class ; until, having accidentally attracted the 
notice of the professor on one occasion, he replied 
with such promptness and learning to a question 
which he addressed to him, as at once to establish a 
reputation ; and Dr. Santagata, who records the 
circum,stance,* observes that his proficiency in each 
of his many different studies was almost as great as 

* Saiitagatd's '* Ssermoiits Duo," p. 173. 


though he had devoted his undivided attention to 
that particular pursuit. 

Meanwhile, however, he continued without inter- 
ruption, what, even thus early in his career, was his 
chosen study of languages. Under the direction 
of Father Aponte, now rather his friend and asso- 
ciate than instructor in the study, he pursued his 
Greek reading ; and as this had been from the first 
one of his favourite languages, there were few Greek 
authors within his reach that he did not eagerly 
read. Fortunately, too, Aponte was himself an 
enthusiast in the study of Greek, and possessed a 
solid and critical knowledge of the language, of which 
he had written an excellent and practical grammar 
for the schools of the university, frequently repub- 
lished since his time ;* and it was probably to the 
habit of close and critical examination which he ac- 
quired under Aponte's instruction, that Mezzofanti 
owed the exact knowledge of the niceties of the lan- 
guage, and the power of discriminating between all 
the varieties of Greek style, for which, as we shall 
see later, he was eminently distinguished. 

One of his fellow pupils in Greek under Aponte 
was the celebrated Clotilda Tambroni, whom I have 
already mentioned in the list of lady-linguists, and 
whose name is the last in the catalogue of lady-pro- 
fessors at Bologna. A community of tastes as well 
as of studies formed a close bond of intimacy between 
her and Mezzofanti, and led to an affectionate and 

• Elementi della Lingua Greca, pel uso delle Scuole di Bologna. 
Bulogna 1807. 


lasting friendship in after life. To Aponte she was 
as a daughter.* 

His master in Hebrew was the Dominican Father 
Ceruti, a learned Orientalist and professor of that 
language in the university. About the same time 
also, he must have become acquainted with Arabic, a 
language for the study of which Bologna had early 
acquired a reputation. And, what is a still more 
unequivocal exhibition of his early enthusiasm, al- 
though Coptic formed no part of the circle of uni» 
versity studies, Go r res states that he learned this 
language also under the Canon John Lewis Minga- 
relli.f If this account be true, as Mingarelli died 
in March 1793, Mezzofanti must have acquired 
Coptic before he had -completed his nineteenth year. 

Nor did he meanwhile neglect the modern lan- 
guages. About the year 1792, a French ecclesiastic 
a native of Blois, one of those whom the successive 
decrees of the Constituent Assembly had driven into 
exile, came to reside in Bologna. From him Mez- 
zofanti speedily acquired French. J He received 
his first lessons in German from F. Thiulen,§ who 

* See Kephalides "Raise durch Italian und Sicilian." Vol. I. p. 29. 

t See two interesting articles in the " Ilistorisch-Politische 
Blatter," vol. X. p, 200, and folio. The writer was the younger 
Gorres, (Guide,) son of the well-known professor of that name. 
Most of his information as to the early life of Mezzofanti was de- 
rived from the Cardinal himself, with whom, during a long sojourn in 
Rome, in 1841-2, he formed a very close and intimate friendship, 
and in company with whom he studied the Basque language, I have 
spoken of Mingarelli in a former page. 

X Manav it, p. 17. 

§ Santagata, p. 171. 


had been one of his masters in the Scuole Pie ; and 
who, although a Swede by birth, was acquainted with 
the cognate language of Germany. From hira, 
too, most probably, Mezzofanti would also have 
learned his native Swedish , but, on the occupation 
of northern Italy by the French, F. Thiulen, who 
had made himself obnoxious to the revolutionary 
party in Bologna, by his writings in favour of the 
Papal authority, had been arrested and sent into 
exile.* Perhaps Thiulen's absence from Bologna was 
the occasion of calling into exercise that marvelous 
quickness in mastering the structure of a new lan- 
guage, which often, during Mezzofanti's later career, 
excited the amazement even of his most familiar 
friends. At all events, the first occasion of his ex- 
hibiting this singular faculty of which I have been 
able to discover any authentic record, is the 
following : — 

A Bolognese musician, named Uttini, had settled 
at Stockholm, where he married a Swedish lady. 
Uttini, it would seem, died early ; but his brother, 
Caspar Uttini, a physician of Bologna, undertook 
the education of his son, who was sent to Bologna for 
the purpose. The boy, at his arrival, was not only 
entirely ignorant of Italian, but could not speak a 
word of any language except his native Swedish. 
In this emergency Mezzofanti, who. although still a 
student, had already acquired the reputation of a 
linguist, was sent for, to act as interpreter between 
the boy and his newly found relatives : but it turned 
out that the language of the boy was, as yet, no 

* " Mtmorie di IvLligiout," vol. IV., p. 4^0. 


less a mystery to Mezzofanti than it had already 
proved to themselves. This discovery, so embarrassing 
to the fiimily, served but to stimulate the zeal of 
Mezzofanti. Having made a few ineffectual attempts 
to establish an understanding, he asked to see the 
books which the boy had brought with him from his 
native country. A short examination of these books 
was sufficient for his rapid mind ; he speedily disco- 
vered the German affinities of the Swedish language, 
and mastered almost at a glance the leading peculiari- 
ties of form, structure, and inflexion, by which it is 
distinguished from the other members of the Teu- 
tonic family ; a few short trials with the boy enabled 
him to acquire the more prominent principles of pro- 
nunciation ; and in the space of a few days, he was 
able, not only to act as the boy's interpreter with his 
family, but to converse Avith the most perfect free- 
dom and fluency in the language !* 

Mezzofanti received the clerical tonsure in the 
year 1795. In 1796 he was admitted to the minor 
orders; and, on the 24th of September in the same 
year, to the order of sub-deacon. On the first of 
April, 1797, he was promoted to deaconship ; and a 
few months later he was advanced, on September 
24th, 1797, to the holy order of priesthood.f At this 

* Santagata " De Josepho Mezzofantio," p. 185. " Applausi 
dei Filopieri," p. 12-3. Mezzofanti was more fortunate in this ex- 
perinnent than the Frenchman mentioned in Moore's " Diary," (vol. 
VI., p. 190,) who, after he had taken infinite pains to learn a Ian- 
guage which he believed to be Srredish, discovered, at the end of his 
studies, thtit the language which he had acquired with so much la- 
bour WMS Bus-Hrctan. 

t M. Mauavit (p. 19,) says, that he was at this time twe7i(y- 


time he had only just completed Lis twenty-third 

This anticipation of the age at which priesthood is 
usually conferred, was probably owing to an appoint- 
ment which he had just received (on the 15th of 
September,)* in the university — that of professor of 
Arabic. Such an appointment at this unprecedented 
age, is the highest testimony which could be rendered 
to his capacity as a general scholar, as well as to his 
eminence as a linguist. 

He commenced his lectures on the 15th of the 
following December. Dr. Santagata, who was a 
student of the university at the time, speaks very 
favourably of his opening lecture, not only for its 
learning and solidity, but also for the beauty of its 
style, and its lucid and pleasing arrangement.f 

Unhappily his tenure of tlie Arabic professorship 
Avas a very brief duration. The political relations 
of Bologna had just undergone a complete re- 
volution. Early in 1796, very soon after the ad- 
vance of the French army into Italy, Bonaparte had 

two years old. But this is an error of a full year. lie was born on 
the 1 7th September, 1774 ; and therefore, before September 24th, 
1797, had completed his twenty-third year. M. Manavit was probably 
misled by the dispensation in age which was obtained for him. But 
it must be recollected that such dispensation is required for all can- 
didates for priesthood under twenty -four years complete. 

This date, and the others relating to his university career, have 
(through the kindness of the Nuncio at Munich, Mgr. De Luca,) 
been extracted for me from an autograph note, deposited by Mezzo- 
fanti himself in the archives of the university of Bologna, on the 
25th of April, 1815. 

f Santagata, Sermones, p. 190. 


been invited by a discontented party in Bologna to 
take possession of their city, and, in conjuction with 
Saliceti, had occupied the fortresses on the 19th of Ja- 
nuary. At first after the French occupation, the Bolog- 
nese were flattered by a revival of their old rauncipal 
institutions ; but before the close of 1796, the name 
of Bologna was merged in the common designation of 
the Cisalpine Republic, by which all the French con- 
quests in Northern Italy were described. By the treaty 
of Tolentino, concluded in February, 1797, the 
Pope was compelled formally to cede to this new Ci- 
salpine Republic, the three Legations of Bologna, Fe- 
rara, and Romagna ; and, in the subsequent organi- 
zation of the new territory, Bologna became the 
capital of the Dipartimento del Reno. 

One of the first steps of the new rulers was to re- 
quire of all employes an oath of fidelity to the Repub- 
lic. The demand was enforced with great strict- 
ness ; and especially in the case of ecclesiastics, 
who in Italy, as in France, were naturally regarded 
with still greater suspicion by the Republican 
authorities, than even those civil servants of the old 
government who had been most distinguished for their 
loyalty. Nevertheless the republican authorities them- 
selves consented that an exception should be made in 
favour of a scholar of such promise as the Abate Mez- 
zofanti. The oath was proposed to him, as to the rest 
of the professors. He firmly refused to take it. In 
other cases deprivation had been the immediate con- 
sequence of such refusal ; but an effort was made to 
shake the firmness of Mezzofanti, and even to induce 
him without formally accepting the oath, to signify his 


compliance by some seeming act of adhesion to the es- 
tablished order of things. An intimation accordingly 
was conveyed to him, that in his case the oath would 
be dispensed with, and that he would be allowed to 
retain his chair, if he would only consent to make 
known by any overt act whatsoever, (even by a mere 
interchange of courtesies with some of the officials of 
the Republic,) his acceptance of its authority as now 
established.* But Mezzofanti was at once too con- 
scientious to compromise what he conceived to be his 
duty towards his natural sovereign, and too honour- 
able to affect, by such unworthy temporizing, a dispo- 
sition which he did not, and could not, honestly en- 
tertain. He declined even to appear as a visitor in 
the salons of the new governor. He was accordingly 
deprived of his professorship in the year 1798. 

He was not alone in this generous fidelity. His 
friend Signora Tambroni displayed equel firmness. 
It is less generally known that the distinguished ex- 
perimentalist, Ludovico Galvani,f was a martyr in 
the same cause. Like Mezzofanti, on refusing the 
oath, he Avas stripped of all his offices and emolu- 
ments. Less fortunate than Mezzofanti, he sunk 
under the stroke. He was plunged into the deepest 
distress and debility ; and, although his Republican 
rulers were at length driven by shame to decree his 
restoration to his chair, the reparation came too 
late. He died in 1798. 

* Manavit, p. 28. 

t Wliewell's Inductive Sciences, III. p. 86. 



The years which followed this forfeiture of his pro- 
fessorship were a period of iniicli care, as well as of 
severe personal privation, for the Abate Mezzofanti. 
Both his parents were still living ; — his father no 
longer able to maintain himself by his handicraft ; 
his mother for some years afflicted with partial blind- 
ness, and in broken or failing health. The family of 
his sister, Teresa Minarelli, had already become very 
numerous, and the scanty earnings of her husband's 
occupation hardly sufficed for their maintenance, 
much less for the expenses of their education. In 
addition, therefore, to his own necessities, Joseph 
Mezzofanti was now in great measure burdened with 
this twofold responsibility — a responsibility to which 
so affectionate a brother, and so dutiful a son could 
not be indifferent. To meet these demands, he had 
hitherto relied mainly upon the income arising from 
his professorship, although this was miserably inade- 


quate, the salaries attached to the professorships in 
Bologna, at the time when Lalande visited Italy, 
(1765-6,) not exceeding a hundred Roman crowns, 
(little more than £25). Small, however, as it Avas, 
this salary was Mezzofanti's main source of income. 
As a title to ordination, the archbishop of Bologna, 
Cardinal Giovanetti, had conferred upon him two 
small benefices, the united revenues of which, strange 
as it may sound in English ears, did not exceed eight 
pounds sterling ;* and an excellent ecclesiastic, F. 
Anthony Magnani, who had long known and appre- 
ciated the virtues of the flimily, and had taken a 
warm interest in Joseph from his boyhood, setth^d 
upon him from his own private resources about the 
same amount. Now, as Mezzofanti had devoted him- 
self to literature, and lived as a simple priest at 
Bologna, declining to accept any preferment to which 
the care of souls was annexed, this wretched pittance 
constituted his entire income. It is true that he 
was about this period chaplain of the Collegio Albor- 
noz,f an ancient Spanish foundation of the great 
Cardinal of that name ;]; but his services appear 
either to have been entirely gratuitous, or the emolu- 
ment, if any, was little more than nominal. 

And thus, when the Abate Mezzofanti, relying 

• Manavit, p. 19. 

+ Ibid, p. 29. 

X The learned and munificent Egidio Albornoz, whom English 
readers probably know solely from the revolting picture in Bulwer's 
" Rienzi." The Albornoz College was founded in pursuance of his 
will, in 1377, with an endowment for twenty-four Spanish students, 
and two chaplains. See Tiraboschi " Letteratura Italiana," V. p. 38. 


upon Providence, hud the courage to throw up, for 
conscience sake, the salary which constituted nearly 
two-thirds of his entire revenue, he found himself 
burdened with the responsibilities already described, 
while his entire certain income was considerably less 
than twenty pounds sterling ! Nevertheless, gloomy 
and disheartening as was this prospect, far from 
suffering himself to be cast down by it, he was even 
courageous enough to venture, about this time, on 
the further responsibility of receiving his sister and 
her family into his own house. The renewal of hos- 
tilities in Italy, in 1799, filled him with alarm for 
her security ; and his nephew, Cavaliere Minarelli, 
who has been good enough to communicate to me a 
short MS. Memoir of the events of this period of his 
uncle's life, still remembers the day on which, while 
the French and Austrian troops were actually engaged 
before the walls, and the shot and shells had already 
begun to fall within the city, his uncle came to their 
house, at considerable personal risk, and insisted that 
his sister and her children should remove to his own 
house which was in a less exposed position. From that 
date (1799) they continued to reside with him. 

To meet this increased expenditure, the Abate's 
only resource lay in that wearisome and ill-requited 
drudgery in Avhich the best years of struggling genius 
are so often frittered away — private instruction. 
He undertook the humble, but responsible, duties of 
private tutor, and turned industriously, if not very 
profitably, to account, the numerous acquisitions of 
liis early years. There are few of the distinguished 


families of Bologna, some of whose members were not 
among his pupils — the IMarescalchi, Pallavicini, 
Ercolani, Martinetti, Bentivoglio, Marsigli, Sampieri, 
Angelelli, Marchetti, and others. To these, as well 
as to several foreigners, he gave instructions in 
ancient and modern languages, to some in his own 
apartments, but more generally in their houses. 

As regarded his own personal improvement in 
learning, these engagements, of course, were, for the 
most part, a wasteful expenditure of time and oppor- 
tunities for study ; but there was one of them — that 
with the Marescalchi family* — which supplied in the 
end an occasion for extending and improving his 
knowledge of languages. The library of the Mares- 
calchi palace is especially rich in that department ; 
and, as the modest and engaging manners of Mez- 
zofanti quickly established hira on the footing of a 
valued friend, rather than of an instructor, in the 
family, he enjoyed unrestricted use of the opportuni- 
ties for his own peculiar studies 'which it afforded. 
In this fomily, too, one of the most ancient and 
distinguished in Bologna, he had frequent opportuni- 
ties of meeting and conversing with foreigners, each 
in the language of his own country. 

At all events, whatever may have been his actual 
opportunities of study during the years which suc- 
ceeded his deprivation, it is certain that, upon the 
whole, his progress during that time was not less 
wonderful than at the most favoured periods of his 

♦ Gorres, in the Histor. PoHt. Blatter, X. p. 203. 

Lj2 life of cardinal mezzofantl 

life. Northern Italy, during this troubled time, "was 
the principal seat of the struggle between Austria 
and the French Republic ; and from the first advance 
of the French in 1796, till the decisive field of 
Marengo in 1800, Bologna found itself alternately in 
the occupation of one or other of the contending 
powers. For nearly twelve months, however, after 
the battle of Trebbia, in July, 1799, the Austrians 
remained in undisturbed possession. The army of 
Austria at that day comprised in its motley ranks, 
representatives of most of the leading European lan- 
guages — Teutonic, Slavonic, Czechish, Magyar, Ro- 
manic, &c. The intercourse with the officers and 
soldiery thus opened for Mezzofanti, in itself supplied 
a school of languages, which, taken in conjunction 
with the university, and its other resources, it would 
have been difficult to find in any other single Euro- 
pean city, except Rome. 

And these advantages presented themselves to the 
Abate Mezzofanti, since his advancement to the 
priesthood, in a way which enlisted still higher 
feelings than that desire for knowledge which had 
hitherto formed his main incentive to study. 

All the accounts which have been preserved of the 
early years of his ministry, concur in extolling his 
remarkable piety, his devotedness to the duties of the 
confessional,* and above all his active and tender cha- 
rity. He had a share in every work of benevolence. He 
loved to organize little plans for the education of the 
poor. Notwithstanding his numerous and pressing 

* Manavit, p. 21. 


occupations, he was a constant visitant of the numer- 
ous charitable institutions for which Bologna, even 
among the munificent cities of Italy, has long been 
celebrated. He was particularly devoted to the sick ; — 
not only to the class who are called in Italy " the 
bashful poor," whom he loved to seek out and visit at 
their own houses, and to whom, poor as he was in 
worldly wealth, his active benevolence enabled him 
to render services which money could not have pro- 
cured ; — but also in the public hospitals, both civil 
and military. Now the terrible campaign of 1796- 
'97, and again of 1709, had filled the camps of both 
armies with sick and wounded soldiers ; and thus 
in the public hospitals of Bologna were constantly to 
be found invalids of almost every European race. 
M. Manavit* states that, even before Mezzofanti 
was ordained priest, he had begun to act as interpre- 
ter to the wounded or dying in the hospitals, whether 
of their temporal or their spiritual wants and wishes. 
From the date of his ordination, of course, he was 
moved to the same service by a zeal still higher and 
more holy. 

"I was at Bologna," he himself told M. Manavit,f^ 
" during the time of the war. I was then young in 
the sacred ministry ; it was my practice to visit the 
military hospitals, I constantly met there Hunga- 
rians, Slavonians, Germans, and Bohemians, who had 
been wounded in battle, or invalided during the 
campaign ; it and pained me to the heart that from 

• Manavit, p. 23. 
t Ibid, pp. 104-5. 


■want of the means of communicating with them, I was 
unable to confess those among them who were Catho- 
lics, or to bring back to the Church those who were 
separated from her communion. In such cases, 
accordingly, I used to apply myself, with all my 
energy, to the study of the language of the patients, 
until I knew enough of them to make myself under- 
stood J I required no more. With these first rudi- 
ments I presented myself among the sick wards. 
Such of the invalids as desired it, I managed to con- 
fess ; with others I held occasional conversations ; 
and thus in a short time I acquired a considerable 
vocabulary. At length, through the grace of God, 
assisted by my private studies, and by a retentive 
memory, I came to know, not merely the generic 
languages of the nations to which the several invalids 
belonged, but even the peculiar dialects of their 
various provinces." 

In this way, being already well acquainted with 
German, he became master successively of Magyar, 
Bohemian, or Czechish, Polish, and even of the Gipsy 
dialect, which he learned from one of that strange 
race, who was a soldier in a Hungarian regiment 
quartered at Bologna during this period.* It is 
probable, too, that it was in the same manner he also 
learned Kussian. It is at least certain that he was 
able to speak that language fluently, at the date of 
his acquaintance with the celebrated Suwarrow. Mez- 
zofanti's report of the acquirements of this '* remark- 
able barbarian" differs widely from the notion then 

* Zach's Correspondance Astionomique," vol. IV, p. 192. 


popularly entertained regarding him. He described 
him as a most accomplished linguist, and a well- 
read scholar. This report, it may be added, is fully 
confirmed by the most recent authorities, and 
Alison describes him as " highly educated, polished 
in his manners, speaking and writing seven languages 
with facility, and extensively read, especially upon 
the art of war."* 

It was about this time also that Mezzofanti 
learned Flemish, He acquired that language from 
a youth of Brussels, who came as a student to the 
University of Bologna.f 

Tiie reputation which he was thus gradually 
establishing, of itself served to extend his opportuni- 
ties of exercise in languages. Every foreigner who 
visited Bologna sought his society for the purpose of 
testing personally the truth of the marvelous reports 
which had been circulation. In these days Bologna 
Avas the high road to Rome, and few visitors to that 
capital failed to tarry for a short time at Bologna, 
to examine the many objects of interest which it 
contains. To all of these Mezzolanti found a ready 
and welcome access. There were few with whom his 
fertile vocabulaiy did not supply some medium of 
communication ; but, even when the stranger could 
not speak any except the unknown tongue, Mezzo- 
fanti's ready ingenuity soon enabled him, as with the 
patients in the hospital, to establish a system for the 

* Alison's" History of Europe," vol. IV. p. 241, (fifth edition), 
f Wap's Mijne Reis naar Rome, in het Voorjaar van 1837. 
2 vols. 8vo, Breda, 1838, II. p. 28. 


interchange of tliouglit. A very small number of 
leading words sufficed as a foundation; and the 
almost instinctive facility with which, by a single 
effort, he grasped all the principal peculiarities of the 
structure of each new language, speedily enabled him 
to acquire enough of the essential inflections of each 
to enter on the preliminaries of conversation. For 
his marvelous instinct of acquisitiveness this was 
enough. The iron tenacity of his memory never let 
go a word, a phrase, an idiom, or even a sound, 
which it once had mastered. 

In his zeal for the extension of the circle of his 
knowledge of languages, too, he pushed to the utmost 
the valuable opportunities derivable from the con- 
verse of foreigners. " The hotel -keepers," he told M. 
Manavit,* " were in the habit of apprising me of the 
arrival of all strangers at Bologna. I made no diffi- 
culty when anything was to be learned, about calling 
on them, interrogating them, making notes of their 
communications, and taking instructions from them 
in the pronunciation of their respective languages. 
A few learned Jesuits, and several Spaniards, Portu- 
guese, and Mexicans, who resided at Bologna, afforded 
me valuable aid in learning both the ancient lan- 
guages, and those of their own countries. I made it 
a rule to learn every new grammar, and to apply 
myself to every strange dictionary that came within 
my reach. I was constantly filling my head with 
ncAv words ; and, whenever any new strangers, 
whether of high or low degree, passed through 

* p. 105. 


Bologna, I endeavoured to turn them to account, 
using the one for the purpose of perfecting my pro- 
nunciation, and the other for that of learning the 
familiar words and turns of expression. I must con- 
fess, too, that it cost me but little trouble ; for, in 
addition to an excellent memory, God had blessed me 

with an incredible flexibility of the organs of 

Occasionally, too, he received applications from 
merchants, bankers, and even private individuals, to 
translate for them portions of their foreign corres- 
pondence which chanced to be written in some of the 
languages of less ordinary occurrence. In all such 
cases, Dr. Santagata* says, Mezzofanti was the un- 
failing resource j and his good nature was as ready 
as his knowledge was universal. He cheerfully ren- 
dered to every applicant every such assistance ; and it 
was his invariable rule never to accept any remunera- 
tion whatsoever for this or any similar service. f 

Even his regular priestly duties as a confessor now 
contributed, as his extraordinary duties in the hospi- 
tals had done before, to enlarge his stock of languages. 
lie was soon marked out as the " foreigners' confessor" 
(confessario del forestieri) of Bologna, an office which, 
inliome and other Catholic cities, is generally entrusted 
to a staff* consisting of many individuals. Almost 
QYQYy foreigner was sure to find a ready resource in 
Mezzofanti ; though it more than once happened 
that, as a preliminary step towards receiving the 

* Sauta^'.ita " Serniones,"p. 189. 
t Ibid, p. 18U. 


confession of the party applying for this office of his 
ministry, he had to place himself as a pupil in the 
hands of the intending penitent, and to acquire from 
him or her the rudiments of the language in which 
they were to communicate with each other. The 
process to him was simple enough. If the stranger 
was able to repeat for him the Commandments, the 
Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, or any one of 
those familiar prayers which are the common property 
of all Christian countries, or even to supply the names 
of a few of the leading ideas of Christian theology, as 
God, sin, virtue, earth, heaven, hell, &c., it was suffi- 
cient for Mezzofanti. In many cases he proceeded 
to build, upon a foundation not a whit more substantial 
than this, the whole fabric of the grammar, and to a 
great extent even of the vocabulary, of a language. 
A remarkable instance of this faculty I shall have to 
relate in the later years of his life. Another, which 
belongs to the present period, has been communicated 
to me by Cardinal Wiseman. " Mezzofanti told me," 
says his Eminence, " that a lady from the island of 
Sardinia once came to Bologna, bringing with her a 
maid who could speak nothing but the Sardinian 
dialect, a soft patois composed of Latin, Italian, and 
Spanish (e.g., Mezzofanti told me that columha nda 
is Sardinian for " my wife.") As Easter approached 
the girl became anxious and unhappy about confession, 
despairing of finding a confessor to whom she should 
be able to make herself understood. The lady sent 
for Mezzofanti ; but at that time he had never 
thouglit of learning the language. He told the lady, 


nevertheless, that, in a fortnight, he would be pre- 
pared to hear her maid's confession. She laughed at 
the idea ; but Mezzofanti persisted, and came to the 
house every evening for about an hour. When Easter 
arrived, he was able to speak Sardinian fluently, and 
heard the girl's confession !" 

It miglit be instructive to trace the order in which 
the several languages which he mastered in this earlier 
part of his career were successively acquired. But 
unfortunately neither the papers and letters which 
have been preserved, nor the recollections of the few 
friends who have survived, have thrown much light 
upon this interesting inquiry. All accounts, however, 
agree in representing his life during these years as 
laborious almost beyond belief. The weary hours 
occupied in the drudgery of tuition ; the time given 
to the manifold self-imposed occupations described in 
this chapter ; the time spent in the ordinary devotional 
exercises of a priest, and in the performance of those 
duties of the ministry in the hospitals and elsewhere 
which he had undertaken ; above all, the time regu- 
larly and perseveringly given to his great and all- 
engrossing study of languages ; — may well be thought 
to form an aggregate of laborious application hardly 
surpassed in the whole range of literary history. It 
fully confirms the well-known assurance of the noble 
Prologue of Bacon's " Advancement of Learning :" 
*' Let no man doubt that learning will expulse busi- 
ness, but rather it will keep and defend the possession 
of the mind against idleness and pleasure, which 
otherwise may enter at unawares to the prejudice of 


both." Other students may perhaps have devoted a 
longer time to continuous application. The celebrated 
Jesuit theologian, Father Suarez, is said to have spent 
seventeen hours out of the twenty -four between his 
studies and his devotions. Castell, the author of 
the Heptaglot Lexicon, declares, in the feeling address 
which accompanied its publication, that his thankless 
and unrequited task had occupied him for sixteen or 
eighteen hours every day during twenty years.* 
Theophilus Raynaud, during his long life of eighty 
years, only allowed himself a quarter of an hour daily 
from his studies for dinner ;f and the Puritan divine, 
Prynne, seldom would spare time to dine at all.t It 
may be doubted whether the actual labour of Mezzo- 
fan ti, broken up and divided over so many almost 
incompatible occupations, did not equal and perhaps 
exceed them all in amount, if not in intensity. 
According to the account of Guido Gorres,§ his 
time for sleep, during this period of his life, was 
limited to three hours. || His self-denial in all other 

* Lexicon Heptaglotton, Preface, 
f Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature, p. 372. 

X Ibid, 369. 
§ Historisch-Polit. Blatter, Vol. X., p. 204. 
II It would be curious to collect the opinions of scholars upon the 
amount of time which may profitably be devoted to study. Some 
students, like those named above, and others who might easily have 
been added ; — as the celebrated Pere Hardouin ; or the ill-fated 
Robert Heron, who died in Newgate in 1807, and who for many 
years had spent from twelve to sixteen hours a day at his desk 
[Disraeli, p. 84] ; — place no limit to the time of study beyond that 
of the student's physical powers of endurance. On the other hand. 
Sir Matthew Hale (see Southey's Life, IV., 357) said that six hours 
a day were as much as any student could usefully bear ; and even 


respects was almost equally wonderful. He was 
singularly abstemious both in eating and in drinking ; 
and his power of enduring the intense cold which 
prevails in the winter months throughout the whole 
of Northern Italy, especially in the vicinity of the 
Apennines, was a source of wonder even to his own 
family. During the long nights which he devoted 
to study he never, even in the coldest weather, per- 
mitted himself the indulgence of a fire. 

I may here mention that he continued the same 
practice to the end of his life. Even after his elevation 
to the cardinalate, he could hardly ever be induced 
to have recourse to a fire, or even to the little portable 
brazier, called scaldino, which students in Italy 
commonly employ, as a resource against the numbness 
of the feet and hands produced by the dry but piercing 
cold which characterizes the Italian winter. 

Lord Coke was fully satisfied with eight. Much, of course, must 
depend on the individual constitution ; but of the two opinions the 
latter is certainly nearer the truth. 



From the commencement of 1803, those difficulties 
of the Abate Mezzofanti's position, Avhich merely arose 
from the straitness of his income, began gradually 
to diminish. On the 29th of January in that year 
he was appointed assistant librarian of the Istituto 
of Bologna ; one of those munificent literary insti- 
tutions of which Italy is so justly proud, founded in 
the end of the seventeenth century by the celebrated 
General Count Marsigli, and enriched by the munifi- 
cence of many successive scholars and citizens of 
Bologna ; especially of the great Bolognese Pope, 
Benedict XIV. Its collections and museums are 
among the finest in Italy ; and the library contains 
above a hundred and fifty thousand volumes. 

But whatever of pecuniary advantage he derived 
from this appointment, was perhaps more than coun- 
terbalanced by the constant demand upon his time 
from the charge of so extensive a library : especially as 


he confesses that, up to that period, he had seldom 
bestowed a thought on the study of bibliography. 
To add to the ordinary engagements of librarian, too, 
it was determined, sometime after Mezzofanti's ap- 
pointment, to prepare a Catalogue Raisonne, in Avhich 
tlie Oriental and Greek department naturally fell to 
his share. For the Oriental department of the 
lib)*ary there seems, up to this time, to have been no 
catalogue, or at least an exceedingly imperfect and 
inaccurate one ; and as a definite time was fixed lor 
the completion of the task, it became for Mezzofanti 
a source of serious and protracted embarrassment, to 
which he alludes more than once in his correspondence. 

A more congenial occupation, however, was offered 
to him soon afterwards. In the end of the same year, 
he was restored to his former position in the univer- 
sity. On the 4th of November in that year, he was 
appointed Professor of Oriental Languages ; — a place 
which he was enabled to hold in conjunction with his 
office in the Library of the Institute. 

A few months after his installation, he read at the 
university, June 23rd, 1804, on the occasion of con- 
ferring degrees, the first public dissertation of which 
I have been able to discover any record. The sub- 
ject was " The Egyptian Obelisks." The dissertation 
itself has been lost ; but Count Simone Stratico, of 
Pavia, to whom we owe the notice of its delivery, 
speaks of it as " most judicious and learned," and 
replete with antiquarian erudition.* 

* In " Lettere di Varii illustri Itali, del Secolo XVII., e del 
Secolo XVIII." Vol. III., p. 183. Count Stratico is the well- 
known mathematician, the friend and colleague of Volta in tlie 
University of Pavia. 


The Oriental Professorship in the neighbouring 
University of Parma, was at this time held by the 
celebrated John Bernard de Rossi. Mezzofanti had 
long desired to form the acquaintance of this distin- 
guished Orientalist ; and more than once projected 
a visit to Parma, for the purpose of placing himself 
in communication with him on the subject of his 
favourite study. His duties as assistant Librarian 
at length afforded the desired opportunity. Having 
occasion to order some of De Rossi's works from 
Parma, he addressed to De Rossi himself a letter 
which soon led to a warm and intimate friendship, 
and was the commencement of an interesting, although 
not very frequent, correspondence, which continued, 
at irregular intervals, up to the time of De Rossi's 
death. Some of Mezzofanti's letters to De Rossi, 
which are preserved in the Library of Parma, have 
been kindly placed at ray disposal. They are 
chiefly interesting as throwing some light on the 
progress of his studies. 

The first is dated September loth, 1804 — 

To the Abate John Bernard de Rossi, Professor of Oriental 

Bologna, September 15, 1804. 
Most illustrious Signor Abate. — I have long admired and 
profited by your rare acquirements, which your learned works have 
made known all over Europe ; and I have, for some time, been 
projecting a visit to Parma, for the double purpose of tendering to 
you a personal assurance of my esteem, and of examining your 
far-famed library. Finding my hope disappointed for the pre- 
sent, I take advantage of a favourable opportunity to offer 
you, at least in writing, some expression of the profound respeot 


■which I feel for one so distinguished in the same studies which I 
inyself pursue with great ard<^ur, although with very inferior 
success. I am desirous also to procure those of your works 
marked nos. 22, 24, 25, and 26, in the catalogue kindly for- 
warded by you through Professor Ranzani. Pray give to the 
bearer of this letter any of the above numbers which may be in 
readiness : he will immediately settle for them. 

May T venture to hope that, for the future, you will allow 
me, when any difficulty occurs to me in my Oriental reading, 
to have recourse to your profound knowledge of Oriental litera- 
ture, and also that you will accept the sincere assurance of the 
esteem with which I declare myself 

Your most humbl eand devotedservant 
D. Joseph Mezzofanli, 

Professor of Oriental Languages. 

De Rossi replied by an exceedingly courteous 
letter, accompanied by a present of several books 
connected with Oriental literature, and manifesting 
so friendly an interest in the studies of his young 
correspondent, that Mezzofanti never afterwards 
hesitated to consult him when occasion arose. Their 
letters, in accordance with the ceremonious etiquette 
which characterizes all the correspondence of that 
period, are somewhat stiff and formal ; but their 
intercourse was marked throughout by an active 
and almost tender interest upon the one side, and a 
respectful but yet affectionate admiration upon the 

Meanwhile, however, Mezzofanti's own increasing 

reputation led to his being frequently consulted upon 

difficulties of the same kind. On one of these — a 

book in some unknown character which had been 

sent for his examination by Monsignor Bevilacqua, 


a learned prelate at Ferrara — he, in his turn, con- 
sults De Rossi. His letter is chiefly curious as 
showing (what will appear strange to our modern 
philologers) that up to this date Mezzofanti was 
entirely unacquainted with Sanscrit. The importance 
of that language and the wide range of its relations, 
which Frederic Schlegel was almost the first to 
estimate aright, were not at this time fully appreciated. 

To Professor Ab. John Bernard De Rossi. 

Bologna, February 4, 1805. 
The works which I lately received from you have only served 
to confirm the estimate of your powers which I had formed from 
those with which I was previously acquainted ; while the obliging 
letter and valuable present which acccompanied them, equally 
convinced me of the kindness of your heart. May I hope that 
this kindness, as well as your profound erudition, may establish 
for me a title to claim the permission which I solicited in my 
last letter ? 1 venture, therefore, to enclose to you a printed 
page in unknown characters, which the owner of the original, 
Mgr. Alessandro Bevilacqua of Ferrara, tells me has been already 
examined by several [savants, but to no purpose. The book 
comes originally from Congo ;* having been brought (hence to 
Ferrara by a Capuchin of the same respectable family. Being 
full of the idea of Sanscrit, to which I earnestly long to apply 
myself as soon as I shall find means for the study, I was at 
first inclined to suspect that this might be the Sanscrit character; 
but this is a mere fancy of mine, or at best a guess. I look, 
therefore, to your more extensive knowledge for a satisfactory 
solution of the doubt ; and meanwhile pray you to accept the 
assurance of my sincere gratitude and esteem. 

This correspondence with De Rossi, also, shows 
very remarkably that, however, at a later period of 

• A Mission had existed in Congo since the end of the fifteenth 


his career, Mezzofanti*s wonderful faculty of language 
may have been sharpened by practice into what 
appears almost an instinct, his method of study at 
this time was exact, laborious, and perhaps even 
plodding. He appears, from the very first, to have 
pursued as a means of study that system of written 
composition which was the amusement of his later 
years ; and he occasionally availed himself of De 
Rossi's superior knowledge and experience so far as 
to submit these compositions for his judgment and 

It is to one of these he alludes in the following 
letter : — 

Bologna, April 15, 1805. 

I send you a translation in twelve languages of a short Latin 
sentence, in the hope that you will kindly correct any mistakes 
into which I may have fallen. I have been obliged to write it 
almost impromptu (su due piedi). I mention this, however, not to 
excuse my own blunders, but to throw the blame of them on 
those who have forced me to the task. Not having a single 
individual within reach with whom to take counsel, I have been 
obliged to impose this trouble upon one whose kind courtesv 
will make it seem light to him. Accept my thanks in anticipation 
of your compliance. 

P. S. I should feel obliged if you could let me have your 
observations by return of post. Pray attribute this, perhaps 
excessive, liberty to the ])eciiliar circumstances in which I am 

I have in vain endeavoured to ascertain what were 
the twelve languages of this curious essay. As no 
trace of the copy is now to be found among De Rossi's 
papers, it seems probable that De Rossi, in complying 
with the request contained in the letter, returned the 


paper to the writer with his own corrections. But 
whatever these "twelve languages" may have been, 
it is certain that, even at the date of this letter, Mez- 
zofanti's attainments were by no means confined to 
that limit. My attention has been called to a notice 
of him contained in a curious, though little-known 
work, published at Milan in 1806,* which describes 
his range of languages as far more extensive. 

The work to which I refer is the narrative of an 
occurrence, which, although not uncommon even down 
to a later date, it is difficult now-a-days, — since Islam 
has ceased to 

wield, as of old, her thirsty lance. 

And shake her crimson plumage to the skies, — 

to realize as an actual incident of the nineteenth 
century ;f — the adventures of an amateur antiquarian, 
who was made captive by Corsairs and carried into 
Barbary. The hero of this adventure was a Milan- 
ese ecclesiastic, Father Felix Caronni. He embarked 
at Palermo for Naples, in a small merchant vessel 
laden with oranges, but had scarcely quitted the shore 
when a pirate-ship hove in sight. The crew, as 
commonly happened in such cases, took to the boat 

* " Ragguaglio del Viaggio compendioso d'un DilettanteAntiquario 
sorpreso da' Corsari, condotto in Barberia, e felicemente ripatriato." 
2 vols. Milan, 18G5-6. The work is anonymous, but the authorship 
is plain from the passport and other circumstances. I am indebted 
for the knowledge of the book (which is now rare) to Mr. Garnett 
of the British Museum. A tolerably full account of it may be found 
in th® BibliotheqtLe Unwer telle de Geneve (a continuation of the 
Bihliotheque Britannique) vol. VIII., pp. 388-408. 

t A similar narrative was published as late as 1817 by Pananti. 
"Avventure ed Osservazioni sopra 1e Coste di Barberia." Firene* 


and escaped, leaving Father Caronni and eighteen 
other passengers to the mercy of the Corsairs, who 
speedily overpowered the defenceless little vessel. 
Caronni, as a subject of the Italian Republic and a 
French citizen,* would have been secured against 
capture ; but his passport was in the hands of the 
captain who had escaped ; and thus, notwithstanding 
his protestations, he was seized along with the rest, 
and, under circumstances of great'cruelty and indigni- 
ty, they were all carried into Tunis. Here, however, at 
the reclamation of the French, supported by the 
Austrian Consul, Father Caronni was saved from the 
fate which awaited the rest of the captives — of being 
sold into slavery, — and at the end of three months, 
(part of which he devoted to the exploration of the an- 

^817. It was translated into English by Mr. Blacquiere, and pub» 
lished in 1819. In the end of the seventeenth century, France and 
England severally compelled the Dey of Algiers to enter into treaties 
by which their subjects were protected from these piratical outrages ; 
and in the following century, the increasing naval power of the other 
great European states tended to secure for them a similar im- 
munity. But the weaker maritime states of the Mediterranean, es- 
pecially Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia, were still exposed not only to 
attacks upon their vessels at sea, but even to descents upon their shores, 
in which persons of every age and sex were carried off and sold into 
slavery, The long wars of the Revolution secured a sort of impunity 
for these outrages, which at length reached such a height, that when, 
in 1816, the combined English and Dutch squadron under Lord 
Elxmouth destroyed the arsenal and fleet of Algiers, the number of 
Christian captives set at liberty was no less than ten hundred and 
eighty-three. Nevertheless even still the evil was not entirely abated • 
nor can the secure navigation of the Mediterranean be said to have 
been completely established till the final capture of Algiers by the 
French under Duperre and Bourmont, in 1830. 

♦ In virtue of a treaty made in 1683, after the memorable bom- 
bardment of Algiers by Admiral Du Quesne. 


tiquities of Tunis and the surrounding district,) he 
was set at liberty and permitted to return to Italy. 

Being at a loss, while preparing the narrative of 
his captivity for publication, for a translation of the 
papers which he received at Tunis when he was set 
at liberty, he had recourse to the assistance of the 
Abate Mezzofanti, as he explains in the following 

"No sooner," says he, " had I obtained the Tiscara* 
[passport,] than I made an exact copy of it (with the 
exception of the Bey's seal,) in the precise dimensions 
of the original. It was not so easy, however, to 
obtain a translation of this document in Italy, both 
because it had been hastily written with a reed — the 
instrument which the Moors employ for that purpose — 
and because there were introduced into it certain 
ciphers which are peculiar to the Arabs of Barbary. 
These difficulties, however, were happily overcome, 
thanks to the exceeding courtesy, as well as the dis- 
tinguished learning of the Abate Mezzofanti, Professor 
of Oriental Languages in the Institute of Bologna, who 
is commonly reputed to be master of more than twenty- 
four languages, the greater number of which he speaks 
with fluency and purity. He has favoured me (in four 

The Moorish form of the common Arabic name Tezkerah, [in 
•^ojptj (see Burton's" Medinah and Meccah," I. 26.) Tazkirehj of a 
passport. The Moorish Arabic differs considerably (especially in the 
vowel sounds,) from the common dialect of the East. Caussin de 
Percival's Grammar contains both dialects, and a special Grammar 
of Moorish Arabic was published at Vienna by Dombay, of which 
Mezzofanti was already possessed (inf. 178.) Both the Grammars 
hamed above are in the Mezzofanti Library. Catalogo, pp. 14 and 
17. Father Caronni gives a fac-simile of a portion of the Tiscara. 


long letters which contain as much information as might 
supply a whole course of lectures) with a literal and 
critically exact version of it, accompanied by copious 
explanations, as also by a fi-ee translation in the fol- 
lowing terms : — 

" ' We have liberated Father Felix Caronni. He is hereby 
permitted to embark from Goletta for the country of the Chris- 
tians, at the intervention of the French Consul, through the 
medium of his Dragoman, in consideration of the payment of 
ninety-nine sequins mahbub, and by the privilege of the 
mighty and generous Hamudah* Basha Bey, Ben-Dani, whom 
may God prosper ! 

" Second Giomada, in the year 1219.' 

•* Giomada^ is the name of the sixth month of the 
Arabs, and the year indicated is the year of their 
Hegira.J And, as the Oriental writing runs in the 
reverse order to ours, (that is, from right to left,) it 
is necessary, in order that the words of the transla- 

" Sidi Hamudah had been Bey of Tunis from the'year 1 782, when 
he succeeded his brother, Ali Bey. He survived till 1815. His 
reign is described as the Augustan age of Tunis (Diary of a Tour 
in Barbary, II. 79). Father Caronni tells of him that when one of 
his generals, — a Christian, — was about to become a Mahomedan in 
the hope of ingratiating himself with Hamudah, he rebuked the rene- 
gade for his meanness. "A hog," said he, "remains always a hog 
jn my eyes, even though he has lost his tail." 

t This month is called iu the common Arabic of Egypt Gumada, 
There are two of the Mahomedan months called by this name, 
Guinadu-l-Oola, and Gumada-t-Taniyeh (Lane's Modern Egyptians, 
I. 330). The latter, which is the sixth month of the year, is the 
one meant here. As the Mahomedan year consists of only three 
hundred and fifty days, it is hardly necessary to say that its months 
do not permanently correspond with those of our year. They retro- 
grade through the several seasons during a cycle of thirty-three years. 

X The year of the Hegira, 1219, corresponds with A.D. 1804. 


tion may correspond with those of the original, to take 
the precaution of reading it backwards, or, what will 
answer the same purpose, in a mirror. What will 
strike the reader, however, as most strange, (as it 
did myself when first the Tiscara was translated for 
me) is its particularizing the ' payment of ninety- 
nine gold mahbubs,' which, at the rate of nine lire 
to each, would make eight hundred and ninety-one 
Milanese lire : whereas this is utterly false as far as 
I am personally concerned, and the French commis- 
sary did not give me the least intimation of any pay- 
ment whatever. The Abate Mezzofanti suggests 
with much probability, that it may be a part of the 
stylus curice of these greedy barbarians to boast in 
their piratical diplomacy that no Christian, and still 
more no ecclesiastic, has ever been made captive by 
them without being, even though a Frank, supposed 
to be a lawful prize, and consequently without being 
made ' to bleed' a little."* 

This is the first published notice of Mezzofanti which 
has come under my observation ; and it is particu- 
larly interesting as an early example of his habit of 
cultivating not only the principal languages, but 
the minor varieties of each. The knowledge that, 
■when he had barely completed his thirtieth year, he 
was reputed to be master of more than twenty-four 
languages, may perhaps prepare us to regard with less 
incredulity the marvels which we shall find related 
of his more advanced career. 

• Ragguaglio del Viaggio, vol. II, p. 140-1. Milan 1806.— The 
hook, though exceedingly rambling and discursive, is not uninteresting 
The second part contains the Author's antiquarian speculations, which 
curiously anticipate some of the results of the recent explorations 
at Tunis. 


In the autumn of the same year the Abate 
Mezzofanti paid his long-intended visit to Parma and 
De Kossi. The Italians, and especially the literary 
men of Italy, are proverbially bad travellers. Maglia- 
becchi never was outside of the gates of Florence in 
his life, except on two occasions ; — once as far as 
Fiesole, which may almost be called a suburb of the 
city, and once again to a distance of ten miles. 
Many an Italian Professor has passed an entire life 
without any longer excursion than the daily walk from 
his lodgings to the lecture-room. Even the great 
geographer, D'Anville,who lived to the age of eighty- 
five, is said never to have left his native city, Paris ;* 
and yet he was able to point out many errors in the 
plan of the Troad made upon the spot by the Comte 
de Choiseul. It has been frequently alleged of Mezzo- 
fanti, also, as enhancing still more the marvel of his 
acquirements in languages, that, until his fortieth 
year, he had never quitted his native city. That this 
statement is not literally true appears from a letter 
which he wrote to the Abate de Rossi, on his return 
to Bologna, after the visit to which I have alluded. 

" Pressed as I am, by my many occupations," he says, 
November 1], 1805, " I cannot delay writing at least a few 
lines, in grateful acknowledgment of the kindnesses which I re- 
ceived from you during my hajipy sojourn in your city. 

I had been prepared for this, as well by the reports of others 
regarding your amiable disposition, as by the courtesy which 
1 had myself experienced ; but all my anlicipalions had fallen 
far short of the reality. Feeling that it is impossible i'ur mu to 
offer you a suitable acknowledgment, I beg that, although I 
have neither words to express it, nor means of giving it effect, 

• Moore's "Diary." III. 138. 


you will believe me to be deeply sensible of my obligation to you. 
I shall preserve all your valued presents with most jealous care. 
The ' Per.Niau Authology'* has been greatly relished by all here 
who apply to the study of that language. 

" I shall often have to claim your indulgence for the trouble which 
1 shall not fail to give you. After the many proofs I have had of 
your kindness, I feel that I should be offending you, were I to 
ask you to let me hope to reckon myself henceforward among 
your friends." 

The friendly courtesy of the Abate De Rossi 
rendered Mezzofanti's stay at Parma exceedingly 
agreeable. One of the friends whom, he made during 
this visit, the learned and venerable Librarian of the 
Ducal Library of that city, Cavaliere Angelo Pezzana, 
still survives, and still speaks with an affection which 
borders upon tenderness of the friendship which re- 
sulted from their first meeting, and which was the 
pride of his later life. Among the subjects of their 
conversation, Cavaliere Pezzanaparticularly remembers 
some observations of Mezzofanti on certain affinities 
between the Russian and Latin languages, which 
struck him by their acuteness and originality. 

A commission which M. Pezzana gave him at his 
departure led to the following letter : — 

Bologna, November 11, 1805. 
In the hope of being able to execute the little commission you 
gave me regarding the Aldine edition of Aristotle, I have put off 
writing until I should have searched in our Library. — On doing 
so, I 6nd that 1 have been mistaken, as there is no copy of that 
edition here. I avail myself, however, of this opportunity to 

* This book is still in the Mezzofanti Library. It is entitled 
Anthologia Persiana: Seu selecta e diver sis Persicis Auctoribvs in 
Latinum translata, Ato. Vienna, 1778. See the "Oatalogo della 
Librcria del Card. Mezzofanti," p. 109. 


renew llie assurance of uiy gratitude for the numberless kindnes- 
ses which you shewed me during the lime it was my good fortune 
to be in your society ; — kindnesses which I never can forget, and 
for which it is my most anxious desire to find some opportunity of 
makingyou areturn. I beg you to present my respects to Dr. Tom- 
masini,and to oiler to Signor Bodoni and his lady my acknowledg- 
ments for tbeii great courtesy. Should any occasion arise in 
which my humble services can be of use, I shall consider myself 
happy, if you will always put aside every idea of my occupations, 
and will honour me with your valued commands. Meanwhile 
accept the assurance of my sincere esteem and attachment. 

Mezzofanti's intimacy with the two gentlemen 
named in this letter, Tommasini and Bodoni, was last- 
ing and sincere. Tommasini, although an eminent 
physician of Parma and an active member of most of 
the scientific societies of his day, is little known out- 
side of Italy : but Bodoni, the celebrated printer and 
publisher of Parma, whose magnificent editions of 
the classics are still among the treasures of 
every great library, was a man of rare merit, 
and a not unworthy representative of the learned 
fathers of his craft, the Stephens, the Manuzi, 
and Plantins of the palmy days of typography. He 
was a native of Saluzzo in the kingdom of Sardinia. 
His early taste for wood-engraving induced him to 
visit Rome for the purpose of study : and he set out 
in company Avith a school-fellow, whose uncle held 
bome office in the Roman court. Bodoni supported 
himself and his companion upon the way by the sale 
of his little engravings, which are now prized as curi- 
osities in the art. On their arrival, however, being 
coldly received by the friend on whom they 
liad mainly relied, they resolved to return home ; but 


before leaving Rome, Bodoni paid a visit to the print- 
ing-office of the Propaganda, where he had the good 
fortune to attract the notice of the Abate Ruggieri, 
then director of that great press. He thus obtained 
employment in the establishment, and at the same 
time was permitted to attend the Oriental Schools 
of the Sapienza ; and thus having learned Hebrew and 
Arabic, he was employed exclusively upon the Orien- 
tal works printed by the Propaganda. The excellence 
and accuracy of the editions of the Missale Arabico- 
Coptum, and the Alphahetum Tibetanum of Padre 
Giorgi which Bodoni printed,excited universal admira- 
tion ; and when, on occasion of the tragical death of 
his friend and patron Ruggieri, he resolved to leave 
Rome, he was earnestly invited to settle in England : 
but he accepted in preference an invitation to Parma, 
where he was appointed Director of the Ducal Press, 
and where all the well-known master-pieces of his art 
were successively produced. Himself a man of much 
learning, and of a highly cultivated mind, he enjoyed 
the friendship of most of the literati of Italy. 

Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfined, 

A knowledge both of books and human khid — 

his conversation was in the highest degree entertaining 
and instructive ; and his correspondence, which has 
been published, is full of interest With the Abate 
De Rossi, who employed his press in all his Oriental 
publications,* he was for years on terms of the closest 

* Bodoni was the printer of De Rossi's " Epithalamium" of Prince 
Charles Emmanuel, in twenty-five languages, alluded to in page 33. 
I should say however, that some of his classics, — especially his 
«' Virgilii Opera,"' although beautiful specimens of typography, have 
but little critical reputation. 


intimacy ; and during Mezzofanti's visit to Parma, 
he treated De Rossi's young disciple with a courtesy 
which ^lezzofanti long and gratefully remembered. 
Bodoni's_wife, who, upon his death in 1813, succeeded 
to his vast establishment, was, like her husband, 
highly cultivated, and a most amiable and excellent 

Among the languages which occupied Mezzofanti 
at this time, Persian appears to have received the 
principal share of his attention. One of the first 
presents which he received from De Rossi was, as we 
have seen, a " Persian Anthology ;" and in a letter to 
De Rossi, written early in 1806 (which Cavaliere 
Pezzana has published in the Modena Journal, 
Memorie di Religioner) he expresses much anxiety 
to obtain a copy of the great Persian classic, Kemal 

The same letter, however, contains another request 
from which it may be inferred that mucli of his 
time was still drawn away from these studies by his 
duties as librarian. Speaking of the catalogue tlien 
in preparation, he complains of the miserably defec- 
tive condition of the library in the department of 
Bibliography ; and begs of his correspondent to send 
him the titles of the Bibliotheca of Hottinger, (perhaps 
his PromptuariumySeu Bihliotheca Orientalis, Heidel- 
berg, 1658) and that of 'Wolff, in order that he may 
provide himself with these works, as a guide in his 

On this subject he speaks more explicitly in a letter 
of the 3rd of March, in the same year. After alluding 
to a commission of De Rossi's which he had failed in 
executing, he proceeds : — 


The preparation of the Catalogue keeps nic in constant occupa- 
tion, because these Oriental books are for the most part without 
the name of the author or the title of the work. Their value, 
that is to say their scientific importance, bears no proportion to 
the labour they cost; inasmuch as they are all Grammatical 
Treatises, books of Law, and such like. However, should I meet 
*ny work of interest, I shall not fail to communicate it to you • 
although, I fancy, it will be difficult to meet with anything that 
you do not know already. 

I received from Vienna immediately on its publication, the 
Grammar of the learned Dombay,* who is well known for other 
works, particularly upon the language and history of Morocco. 
It happens that I have got two copies of it; and I have set 
one of them apart for you, for which you may perhaps give me 
in exchange one of your own duplicates. It contains the 
Grammar arranged after the manner of the Latin Grammarians ; 
the rules of Persian according to Meninski,-f- with this advantage, 
that here they are given in consecutive order, whei'eas in Meninski 
they are found mixed up with those of the Arabic and Turkish. 
Your friend, M. Silvestre de Sacy, reviewed it in the Magazin 
Encyclofedique, and took exception to Bombay's reducing the 
Persian to the system of the Latin Grammar. I hope shortly 
to receive the other from Leipsic, as also the tales of Nizami, in 
Persian and Latin, printed by Wolff, and published by L. Hill, 
who promised for the same year, 1802, an edition of the 
Divan of Hafiz.t 

I am only waiting for a safe opportunity to forward your 
books. We cannot fail of one in the coming spring. As to the 
" Oriental Anthology," I have given it in charge to the courier as 
far as Milan, but have not yet heard intelligence of it. 

* " Grammatica Linguae Mauro-Arabicse, juxta vernaculi Idioma- 
tis Usum." 4to. Vienna, 1800. Seethe " Catalogo della Libreria 
Mezzofanti" p. 14 

t " Institutiones Linguse Turcicae,cum Rudimentis parallelis Lin- 
guarum Arabicae et Persicse." 2 vols. 4to. Vienna, 1756." "Cata- 
logo," p. 36. 

% An intended reprint of the edition of the Divan, which was 
published at Calcutta, 17^1. 


Book-buying is undoubtedly very tioublesonie, and tlie least 

disagreeable part of it is the money the books cost, although in 

Oriental works I always find this excessive. I beg you not to 

spare me whenever any occasion offers in which my services may 


The Abate de Rossi had requested to be furnished 
with a note of the principal Oriental MSS. of the 
Bologna collection ; but Mezzofanti's labour in prepar- 
ing the general Catalogue was so great, and the time 
fixed for its completion was so entirely inadequate, 
that, for a considerable time, he was unable to comply 
with his friend's request. It is to this he alludes in 
the following letter, dated May 11, 1806. After 
apologizing for the delay in forwarding the book re- 
ferred to in the letter of March 3rd, he proceeds : — 

My labour at the Catalogue still continues, nor can I hope 
at the period appointed for its close, to have done more than 
merely sketch it out ; — that is, we shall have nothing entered but 
the bare titles of the works. This, however, in itself, is a task so 
difficult in our Oriental MSS., that, up to the present time, it has 
never been satisfactorily done. Besides the Oriental books, I 
have also to deal with the Greek ; and all must be in readiness 
within the coming month. The truth is that I should require a 
year at least to give a proper shape to my labour, and in the 
beginning ray impression was that it would require two. And in my 
present difficulty, what gives me most pain is that I am not able to 
send you, as early as I could wish, the note which you have often 
expressed a wish to obtain ; but I shall send it the very first mo- 
ment in my power. 

I have received your new work,* for which I beg you to accept 
my best thanks. I did not write at the moment, knowing you 

* Probably'the " Lexicon Hebraicum Selectum ;" or the '•' Disserta- 
tion on an edition of the Koran," both of which were published at 
Parma, in 1803. See "Catalogo della Lib. Mezzofanti," p. 17 and 
p. 40. 


do not like very frequent letters; I have besides too much respect 
for time devoted like yours to the honour of Italy, on which your 
works in Oriental literature have shed a lustre. I long never- 
theless for a fitting opportunity to prove to you the sincerity of 
my gratitude. 

Under this constant and protracted labour Mezzo - 
fanti's health began to give way. His chest was 
seriously threatened during the summer of 1806, 
and had it not been that he fortunately obtained an 
extension of the time allotted for the completion of 
his task at the Catalogue, it is not unlikely that his 
constitution, naturally weak, might have been perma- 
nently enfeebled. Family cares, too, formed no in- 
considerable part of his burden. The health of his 
mother, which had for a long time been very uncer- 
tain, was completely broken down. She w^as now 
entirely blind. For many weeks of this season he 
was in daily apprehension of her death ; and, in the 
pressure of his engagements, his hours of attendance 
on her sick bed were subtracted from the time 
hitherto devoted to rest, already sufficiently curtailed. 

In the midst of these cares and occupations, Mez- 
zofanti was surprised by a flattering invitation to 
transfer his residence to Paris, with a promise of 
patronage and distinction from the Emperor Napoleon, 
who was at this time eagerly engaged in plans for 
the development of the literary and artistic glories 
of his capital. More than one of Mezzofanti's 
countrymen were already in the enjoyment of high 
honours at Paris. First among them may be named 
Volta, for many years Professor of Natural Philosophy 
in the University of Pavia. More pliant than his 


great fellow-discoverer, Galvaui, or perhaps more 
favourably circumstanced as not being, like him, a 
member of a Papal University, he had escaped the 
proscription which brought Galvani to his grave — 
one of those victims of loyalty whom Petrarch declares 

assai piu belli 

Con la lor poverta, che Mida o Crasso 
Con I'oro, ond' a virlii furon ribelli ;— 

Volta was called from Pavia to Paris, where he was 
rewarded with distinctions, emoluments, titles, and, 
more flattering than all, with the personal notice and 
patronage of the great conqueror himself, who was 
often present at his experiments, and displayed a warm 
interest in the results to which they led.* 

Such were at this period the tempting rewards of 
scientific or literary eminence in France. Moreover, 
Count Maresculchi, in whose famil}^ Mezzofanti had 
acted as tutor and librarian during the years of his de- 
privation, was now Resident Minister of the Kingdom 
of Italy at Paris. The Count's intercourse with Mez. 
zofanti was but little interrupted by their separation; 
and, even during his residence in Paris, the latter con- 
tinued to correspond with him ; chiefly on matters 
connected with the education of his children, or 
with the completion or extension of his noble li- 
brary. The extent of their intimacy indeed may be 

* It was on occasion of one of Volta's demonstrations that Napo- 
leon made the comparison which has since become celebrated. "Here, 
doctor," said he, to his physician Corvisart, pointing to the Voltaic 
pile ; " here is the image of life ! The vertebral column is the pile ; 
the liver is the negative, the bladder, the positive pole." See 
Whewell's Inductive Sciences, III. 67. 


inferred from one of Mezzofanti's letters to the Count 
dated September 16, 1806, in which we find him 
freely employing the services of the minister in pro- 
curing books at Paris, not only for himself but for his 
literary friends in Bologna.* 

It was through this Count Marescalchi that the in- 
vitation to Paris was conveyed to Mezzofanti, and it 
cannot be doubted that it was accompanied by a warm 
recommendation from the Count himself. No trace 
of this formal correspondence is now discoverable ; 
but probably far more interesting, as it is certainly 
far more characteristic, than the official letter or reply, 
is the following playful letter to one of Count Mares- 
calchi's sons, Carlino (Charlie), Mezzofanti's former 
pupil — now the representative of the house — who had 
written a special letter, to add the expression of his 
own wishes to those of his father, that his old instructor 
should join them once again at Paris. 

Bologna, September 16, 1806. 

But three letters, dearest Charlie, in an entire year — two from 
JiVons, and one from Paris — to cheer my regrets in being separa- 
ted from you! If I were to take this as the measure of your 
love for me, I should indeed have reason to be sad. But I have 
abundant other proofs of your feelings in my regard ; and at all 

* For instance among the books which he asks the Count in this 
letter to send, are the works of " Pimmortale Haiiy ;" — the celebrated 
Abbe Haiiy, who after Rome de I'lsle, is the founder of the science 
of Crystallography, and who at this time was at the height of his 
brilliant career of discovery. (Whewell's "Inductive Sciences" IIL 
222.) Haiiy 's works were intended for his friend Ranzani. 


events, I am not one who can afford to be too rigid in insisting 
upon the frequency of correspondence, unless I wish to furnish 
grave grounds of complaint against myself. 

Few, however, as your letters have been, I am deeply grateful 
for their warm and a/Fectionate sentiments, which carry with them 
such an evidence of sincerity as to leave me, even when you do 
not write, no ground for doubting what yourfeelings still are towards 
me. I am not sure whether in your regard I shall be equally 
fortunate; for I am fully sensible that I have not the power of 
infusing into what I write all the warmth and sincerity that I 
really feel. However, you are not dependent on my words, in 
order to be satisfied of the truth of my affection ; and, knowing it 
as you do, even a lesser token of it than this will suffice to con- 
vince you. 

I am still here at Bologna following the same old round of 
occupations. Nor am I dissatisfied with my lot, for I am quite 
sensible of my inability to take a loftier flight. I feel that 
the shade suits me best. Were I to go to Paris, I should be 
obliged to set myself up upon some candlestick, where I should 
only give out a faint and flickering gleam, which would soon die 
utterly away. Nevertheless I am not the less grateful for your 
advice ; though I perceive that you are dissatisfied with me 
because 1 am such a little fellow. 

A thousand, thousand greetings to your dear little sisters. 
Renew my remembrance to your father, and when you have an 
occasional moment of leisure liom your tasks, pray bestow it upon 

Your sincere friend, 

D. Joseph Mezzofanti. 

Besides the unaffected modesty and the distrust of 
his own fitness for a prominent position (even with 
such advantages as those offered to him at Paris,) 
which are expressed in this letter, the Abate Mezzo- 
fanti was also moved to decline the invitation, both by- 
affection for his native city and love of its university 


life (to which we shall find him looking back with 
fondness even after his elevation to the cardinalate,) 
and by unwillingness to part from his family, to whom 
he was tenderly attached. To the latter he had 
always felt himself bound by duty as well as by affec- 
tion. The expense of the education of his sister's 
children, who at this time, (as appears from a little 
Memoir in the archives of the University drawn up 
in 1815,) were seven in number, amounted to a con- 
siderable sum. They, as well as their parents, still 
continued to reside in his house ; and the same 
Memoir alludes to another near relative who was at 
least partially dependent upon him for support. 

To these children, indeed, he was as a father. 
Cavaliere Minarelli, in the interesting note already 
cited, describes him as " most affectionately devoted 
to them, and uniting in his manners the loving 
familiarity of a friend with the graver author- 
ity of an instructor." In his brief intervals of 
leisure from business or study, he often joined 
them in their little amusements. Without the 
slightest trace of austerity, he generally managed to 
give their amusements, as far as possible, a religious 
character. He usually made the festivals memorable 
to them by some extra indulgence or entertainment. 
He encouraged and directed their childish tastes in 
the embellishment of their little oratories, or in those 
well-known Christmas devices of Catholic children, 
the preparation of the " Crib of the Infant Jesus," 
or the decoration of the "Christmas Tree." He 


hoarded his little resources ia order to procure for 
them improving and instructive books. He composed 
simple odes and sonnets for the several festivals, which 
it was his greatest enjoyment to bear them recite. 
The simplicity of his disposition, and a natui-al 
fondness for children which was one of • the 
characteristics even of his later life, made all this 
easy to him. He was always ready, if not to 
take a part, at least to manifest an interest, in 
the pleasures of his young friends. In the carni- 
val especially, when amusement seems, for a time, to 
form the serious business of every Italian household, 
he was never wanting ; and, on one memorable occa- 
sion, he actually composed a little comedy, to be acted 
by his nephcAvs and nieces for the humble family circle. 

During the whole winter of 1806-7 his time was 
still occupied in the uncongenial labour of compiling 
the Catalogue. 

On the 25th of September, he writes to the Abate 
De Rossi, apologizing for delay in replying to a letter 
received from him. 

"A complication of unfoitiniate accidents has, up to this mo- 
ment, prevented nie from answering your kind letter of last July. 
My poor mother has frc(iuently, during the summer, been in 
extreme danger of death. My own chest, too, has more than once 
been threatened, and is still far from strong. All this, how- 
ever, does not save me from a feeling of remorse at having 
been so tardy towards one whose scientific reputation, as well as 
his courteous manners, entitle him to so much consideration. My 
labour, as you say, is not yet over. The task, as I had indeed 
anticipated from the beginning, has proved an exceedingly difficult 
one. As an evidence of the difficulty I need only mention 


that the celebrated Giuseppe Asseiuani, in the similar work which 
he undertook,* has made numerous mistakes, having in one 
instance given no less than six different titles to seven copies of 
the same work. This great orientalist, with all his learning, 
could not command the time necessary for so troublesome a task 
as that of ascertaining the titles and authors of books which are 
quite unknown and often imperfect. For my part, I resolved 
from the beginning that I would not, willingly at least, add to the 
other deficiencies of which I am conscious, that of haste and 
insufficient tinae. Natn quo minus ingenio possum, subsidio 
mihi diligentiam comparavi ; and the condescension of his 
Serene Highness has in the end relieved me, by extending until 
April the time allowed for the completion of the task. The 
grammarians, rhetoricians, poets, prosodians, logicians, and theo- 
logians, have taken up all my time hitherto; in the course of the 
next two months, I hope to complete the enumeration of the 
other authors; and then I shall at last fulfil my promise of 
sending you, when occasion serves, whatever I think may in- 
terest you." 

De Rossi, in his letter, to which this is a reply, 
had put some questions regarding the contents of the 
octavo edition of D'Herbelot's Bihliotheque Orientate, 
the preface of which had contained a promise of many 
important improvements. Mezzofanti, referring to 
these promised additions, goes on to say, " In the 
articles which I have compared, I have only found a 
few verbal corrections. But in the preface, we are 
promised additional articles, drawn from the narra- 
tives of travellers subsequent to D'Herbelot. From 
this promise you will be able to infer what infor- 
mation you may expect to derive from the edition, and 

* He alludes to the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino- Vaticana. 
Joseph Assemani's nephew, Stephen Evodius, compiled a catalogue 
of the Oriental MSS. at Florence. 


whetlier it is likely to be useful for your purpose. I 
have not yet received tlie supplement, which was to 
contain certain articles which have been postponed 
for reasons explained in the preface. Perhaps the rea- 
son of its not having been printed, may be, that the 
articles in question, being of use to orientalists alone, 
may be found by them in the former editions. 

"As it would be no small distinction for the collec- 
tion of Oriental MSS. belonging to this Royal Library 
of ours, if among them there should be found any de- 
serving of a place amongst the MSS. cited in your 
dictionary, I shall endeavour, in the hope that it may 
prove so, to complete my task as speedily as possible, 
so as to send you at least an index, out of which you 
may yourself choose the name of any author whom 
you shall judge deserving of notice. 

" I believe Bombay's work has been published. I 
have the title, ' Geschichte der Mauritan. Konige; 
aus dem Arahischen uhersetzV ; * but without date 
or place. I shall write to Vienna as soon as I can, 
to order it, if it should be published. I have made a 
good many interesting acquisitions lately ; as for 
instance, Albucasis ^ De Chirurgia.^f Oxonii, 1778. 

* The exact title ia "Geschichte der Scherifen, oder der Konige 
des jetzt regierendes Hauses zu Marokko." It was published, not 
at Vienna, as this letter supposes, but at Agram, in 1801. 

t A Moorish physician of Cordova, in the twelfth century, variously 
called Albucasa, Buchasis, Bulcaris, Gafar ; but properly Abul 
Cassem Khalaf Ben Abbas. There are many early Latin transla- 
tions of his work. A very curious edition, with wood-cuts, (Venice, 
1500,) is in the British Museum. The one referred to in this letter 
is in Arabic and Latin, 2 vols. 4to. 


^ Maured Allatafet Jemaleddlni filii Togri Bardii ; 
seu Rerum Aegyptiacarum Annales ah Anno C 971 
ad 1453';* several '■ Anthologias^ and ^ Chrestoma- 
thias ; one of which, that of Rink and Vater,has at the 
end a Bihliotheca Arahica continued up to 1802 ; and 
some other books." 

At this date, Mezzofanti's correspondence with De 
Rossi is interrupted ; and, although there appears 
to have been a pretty regular interchange of corres- 
pondence between them for some years longer,f no 
further letter has been found among those of De Rossi's 
papers which are deposited in the library of Parma, 
except one written in the year 1812. 

Scanty as are the details supplied by those which 
are preserved, they, at least, afford some insight into 
the process by which the writer's extraordinary faculty 
was developed and perfected. However acute and 
almost instinctive this faculty may have been, it is 
plain from these letters, that it was at this time most 
systematically and laboriously cultivated. However 
muchMezzofanti may have owed to nature, it is certain, 
that for all the practical results of his great natural 
gifts he was indebted to his own patient and almost 
plodding industry : and it may cheer the humble 
student in the long and painful course through which 

* " Arabisches, Syrische?, und Chaldaisches Lesebuch, Von 
Friederich Theodor Rink und J. Severinus Vater," Leipsic, 1802. 
Rink, Professor of Theology and of Oriental Languages, at Hei- 
delberg, was an orientalist of considerable eminence. Vater is, of 
course, the well-known successor of Adelung as editor of the Mithri- 

f Thus, in one of Mezzofanti's letters, in 1812, he speaks of " Le 
imolestie che si spcsso Le ho date colle mie letter e." 


alone he can aspire to success, to find tliat even liiis 
prodigy of language was forced to tread the same la- 
borious path;— to see the anxious care with which he 
collected and consulted grammars, dictionaries, 
manuals, reading books, and other similarcommonplace 
appliances of the study ; and to learn, that, with all 
his unquestioned and unquestionable genius, he did 
not consider himself above the drudgery at which even 
less gifted students are but too apt to murmur or 


It may be added that the toilsome practice of 

writing out translations from one language into an- 
other which these letters disclose, was continued by 
Mezzofanti through his entire career of study, 
although in his latter years he pursued it more as an 
amusement than as a serious task. 

It is hard, in ordinary cases, to infer from such 
performances the exact degree of proficiency in the 
language which they should be presumed to indicate. 
Some translations are only the fruit of long and careful 
study.* On the contrary, there are instances on 
record in which excellent translations have been pro- 
duced by persons possessing a very slight knowledge 
of the original. Thus Monte, the author of the best 
Italian translation of Homer, was utterly unacquainted 
with Greek;! Halley,witlioutknowing a word of Arabic, 
was able to guess his way, (partly by mathematical 
reasoning, partly by the aid of a Latin version, which, 

• M. Patru spent three years in translating Cicero's" Pro Archia ;"' 
and in the end, had not satisfied himself as to the rendering of the 
very first sentence. 

t Moore's Diary, III., 183. 


however, only contained about one-tenth of the entire 
work,) through an Arabic translation of Apollonius 
De Sectione Bationis ; * and M. Arnaud, the first 
French translator of Lalla E,ookh,did not know a word 
of the English language.f 

But on all these points Mezzofanti's fame is beyond 
suspicion. His translations, at least in his later life, 
were at once produced with the utmost freedom and 
rapidity, and are universally acknowledged to have been 
models of verbal correctness ; and in most instances 
where the same passage is translated into many 
languages, the versions display a remarkable mastery 
over the peculiar forms and idioms of each. 

This wonderful success must be ascribed, no doubt, 
to his early and systematic exercise in translation, 
of which the specimen submitted to De Kossi is but 
one example. 

• D' Israeli's Curiosities of Literature, p. 524. 
f Moore's Diary, III., 183. 



The Catalogue Raisonne of the Oriental and Greek 
manuscripts was not completed until 1807, having 
thus absorbed the greater part of Abate Mezzofanti's 
time during two years. 

A large proportion of the Oriental MSS. had 
never even been entered upon the ordinary library 
catalogue, and no attempt at all had been made 
to describe them accurately, much less to register their 
character or contents. Very many of them too, 
as we learn from Mezzofanti's letters, were imperfect ; 
and a still more considerable number wanted at least 
the title and the name of the author. It was no 
trivial labour, therefore, to examine the entire col- 
lection ; to decide on the name, the age, and the 
authorship of each ; to describe their contents ; and 
to reduce them all into their respective classes. 
For most of these particulars the compiler of the cata- 
logue was utterly without a guide. It is true that 
Joseph Assemani's catalogue of the Oriental MSS. of 
the Vatican, and the catalogue of those of the Medicean 


Library at Florence by his nephew Stephen Evodius, 
were in some cases available. But many of the 
Bologna MSS. are not to be found in either catalogue • 
and for all these Mezzofanti was of course compelled 
to rely altogether on his own lights. 

The catalogue, as drawn up by him, is still preser- 
ved, and, notwithstanding these disadvantages, is des- 
cribed as a highly creditable performance, and " a 
valuable supplement to the labours of Talmar and 
the Assemanis ;" * and at all events it was to his long 
and laborious researches while engaged in its prepara- 
tion, that he owed that minute familiarity with the 
whole literature ot the East, ancient and modern, 
which, as we shall see, was a subject of wonder even 
to learned orientals themselves. 

During the year 1807, an opportunity occurred for 
testing practically how far the reputation which he 
had acquired corresponded with his real attainments. 
On the outbreak of hostilities between the Porte and 
Eussia in that year, the Russian ambassador, 
Italinski, withdrew (not without some risk and diffi- 
culty)! from Constantinople, and, being conveyed on 
board the British ship of war, Canopus, to Malta, 
afterwards made his way to Ancona. While the 
ambassador remained at Ancona, the chancellor of 
the embassy, Angelo Timoni, who was of Bolognese 
origin, came to visit his native city ; accompanied by 
Matteo Pisani, the official interpreter, who was one of 
the best linguists of his time, and especially a perfect 
master of all the modern languages of the East. 

• See Historisch-Politische Blatter, x. 203-4. 

t See Alison's History of Europe, Vol. vi., p. 371-2. 


As tliey resided, diii'in<r tlieir stay at Bolugua, in the 
houseof his friend, Dr. Santagata, their visit wasasevere 
ordeal for Mezzofanti, who was constantly in their 
society; but he withstood it triumphantly ; and Santa- 
gata records their wonder and delight to find that, with- 
out everhaving visited theEast, or mixed in Oriental so- 
ciety, the Bolognese professor had nevertheless attained 
a " mastery over the many and various languages, 
especially Oriental ones, in which they tried him, and 
that the marvellous and all but inconceivable ac- 
counts which they had received regarding him, proved 
to be not only credible but actually true."* 

A great and lasting mortification nevertheless soon 
afterwards befel Mezzofanti, in the unexpected depri- 
vation of his beloved professorship. The circumstances 
which accompanied his removal have not been fully de- 
tailed, but there is enough in the history of the period to 
supply an intelligible explanation. The conflict of 
Napoleon with the Holy See was just then approaching 
its crisis. From the beginning of this year tlie 
French troops had occupied Rome. Two cardinal se- 
cretaries of state had been forcibly ejected from office. 
The Pope was a prisoner in his own palace and his 
authority was completely superseded. Now upon 
these and the many similar outrages to which the 
venerable Pontiff was daily subjected, the opinions of 
Mezzofanti were no secret ; and there can be no doubt 
that the determination of the Government to remove 
him from the university was mainly influenced by this 
knowledge; although in deference to public opinion, 
and to the universal feeling of respect with which he was 

• Santagata " Sermones Duo," p. 9. 


regarded, they abstained from formally depriving him 
of his professorship. His removal was effected indi- 
rectly by a decree, dated November 15, 1808, by which 
the Oriental professorship itself was suppressed. 

Although a pension, and as it would seem, not a 
very illiberal one, was assigned to him, he felt very< 
deeply this exclusion from a career so congenial to 
his tastes. He continued nevertheless, as before, to 
instruct pupils privately in these and other languages ; 
and although, as to details, the history of his own 
studies at this time is a complete blank, yet from his 
known habits it may reasonably be presumed that 
when the first feeling of mortification had subsided, 
the ultimate result of his release from the duties of 
his chair, was to direct his untiring energies into new 
fields of research ; and it seems to have been during 
this interval that he first gave his attention to the 
Sanscrit and other Indian languages ; — a family 
which had till then been but little cultivated except 
in England, but to whose vast importance, as well as 
widely extended philological relations, Frederic 
Schlegel* had just awakened the attention of the 
learned throughout continental Europe. 

From the date of this second deprivation, till the 
year 1812, his quiet and uniform course of life pre- 
sents hardly a single interesting incident. 

In June, 1810, his mother died. But her advanced 
age and infirm health had long prepared him for this 
bereavement. She died on the feast of St .Aloysius 
(June 21,) in her seventy-third year. 

• By his celebrated EsSc'iy " Ueber die Sprache und Weisheit der 
Indier/' 1808. 


The only detail regarding his personal occupations, 
which I have been able to discover, is derived from 
a letter, dated November 30th, 1811,* to his friend 
Pezzana, at Parma, which exhibits him again engaged 
in the drudgery of compiling a catalogue — that of the 
library of Count Marescalchi. Pezzana had published, 
some time before, a short bibliographical essay on 
two very rare editions of Petrarch, which are still 
preserved in the Parma Collection. Mezzofanti, 
while engaged in cataloguing the Mareschalchi lib- 
rary, discovered a copy of one of these editions, and 
at once wrote to communicate the fact to Pezzana. 

1 may also mention, what, in a life so uneventful, 
must claim to be regarded as an event — a short 
journey which he made to Modena and Mantua. 
Joseph Minarelli, the eldest of his sister's sons, was 

- * As this letter may perhaps possess some bibliographical value, 
I shall translate it here — 

" In making the catalogue for the library of His Excellency 
Count Marescalchi, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the kingdom of 
Italy, I have discovered a copy of the Siliprandine edition of Petrarch, 
which corresponds exactly to the very full description published by 
you, except that in this one the table of contents is at the close, in 
which place you remark, (at page 35,) it would stand better than in 
that which it occupies in your Parma copies. The leaves are 188 in 
number, as there happens to be a second blank one before the index. 

" I mention the fact to you at the suggestion of His Excellency ; but 
I gladly avail myself of the opportunity which the communication 
affords me of thanking you in writing for your kindness in presenting 
me with your learned letter upon the present edition, together with 
your valuable bibliographical notices of the two exceedingly rare 
editions of the 15th century,* and of renewing, at the same time, 
the assurance of my respect and esteem. 

" Bologna, Nov. 30, 1811." 

» The title of Pezzana's essay is " Noticie bibliograpluclie intoruo a due rarissime 
edizioni del Tetrarca del Secolo xv.," Parma: 180S. It Is printed by Bodoni. 


summoned to Mudeiia in 1813, to ballot in the 
conscription which followed the terrible campaign of 
1812, so fatal to the armies of France. Signora 
Minarelli was naturally much alarmed at the chance 
of her son's being drawn in the conscription, and in 
consideration for her anxiety, his uncle accompanied 
him to Modena upon the occasion. 

It becomes especially difficult henceforward to fol- 
low the history of his studies. The literary friends 
of this part of his career.; — his colleagues in 
the University ; Ranzani ; Caturegli, the astrono- 
mer ; the eminent botanist, Felippo Re ; his 
fellow-pupil and fellow-teacher, Clotilda Tambroni; 
Schiassi ; Magistrini ; and others of less note, 
who could have supplied information, not only 
as to his habits and pursuits, but as to the 
actual stages of his progress, are long since dead. 
The letters of Pietro Giordani,* however, recently 
published, may, in some measure, fill up the blank ; 
not, it is true, as to the details of his biography, but at 
least in so far as regards the opinion entertained 
in Bologna of his character and acquirements. 
Indeed the testimony of Giordani is less open 
to exception than any which could have eman- 
ated from the personal friends of Mezzofanti. Giordani 
had entered the Benedictine congregation, and had 
even received the order of sub-deaconship ; but on the 

• Opere di Pietro Giordani, Vols. /.-F/. Milano, 1845. Giordani 
is mentioned by Byron, (Life and Journals, VI., 262,) as one of the 
few " foreign literary men whom he ever could abide." It is curioui 
that the only other name which he adds is that of Me/.zofanti. 


outbreak of the Ke volution, he had renounced the monas- 
tic life, cast aside the Benedictine habit, and thrown 
himself into the arms of the revolutionary party in 
Italy. Under the French rule at Bologna, he obtained 
as the reward of his principles, the place of Assistant 
Librarian, and also that of Deputy Professor of Latin 
and Italian Eloquence. Hence it will easily be believed 
that his relations with the Papal party in the Uni- 
versity were by no means friendly; and, as he had had 
with the Abate Mezzofanti himself (as I learn from 
an interesting letter of M. Libri which shall be inser- 
ted hereafter,) some personal misunderstandings, he 
may be presumed to have been but little disposed to 
over-rate the qualifications of an antagonist. It is 
no mean evidence of Mezzofanti's merit, therefore, 
that Giordani has specially excepted him from the 
very disparaging estimate which he expresses regard- 
ing the literary men of Italy at this time. " I have held 
but little intercourse with literary men," he writes to 
his friend Lazzaro Papi, "finding them commonly pos- 
sessed of but little learning and a great deal of passion. 
Here, however, I have met an exception to the rule — 
the Abate Mezzofanti — a man not only of the utmost 
piety, but of attainments truly wonderful and all but 
beyond belief. You must, of course, have heard of 
him ; but indeed he well deserves a wider fame than 
he enjoys, for the number of languages which he 
knows most perfectly, although this is the least part 
of his learning. Nevertheless, such is his excessive 
modesty, that he lives here in obscurity, and I must 
add, to the disgrace of the age, in poverty."* 

• Opere di Pietro Giordani : Edited (with a biography) by Antonio 
Gussalli. Gussalli is also the translator of F. Cordara's " Expedition 
of Charles Edward," Milan: 1845. See Quarterly Review, Ixxix., 
pp. 141-68. 



Nor is .Giordani's report to be regarded as one of 
those vague panegyrics, which, when ^lezzofanti's 
fame was established, each new visitor was wont to 
•re-echo. Giordani is not only well-known as one of 
the purest Italian writers of the century, but enjoyed 
the highest reputation as a critical scholar ; and the 
subject on Avhich, in another of his letters, he defers 
to the judgment of Mezzofanti — a delicate question 
of Greek criticism — was precisely that on which he 
himself was best qualified to pronounce. In a letter 
to the Abate Canova (Feb 3, 1812,) he mentions a 
conjecture that had recently interested him very 
much ; viz., that the great Koman architect, Vitruvius, 
was a Greek, although he wrote in Latin. His chief 
argument is based upon Vitruvius's Latinity, in which 
he detects traces of foreign idiom. But, lest he should 
yield too much to fancy, he had appealed to the judg- 
ment of some of his colleagues, and he communicates 
the result to his correspondent. One of the persons 
thus consulted was Mezzofanti. " I should not rely 
on my own judgment," says Giordani, " had I not con- 
vinced Cicognara and Mezzofanti that it is right. The 
authority of the latter is the more important, because 
my argument rests chiefly on the style, in every line of 
which I find impressed, even where the subject is 
not technical, traces of halting [stoiyiato'] and ill- 
translated Greek ; and you know what a judge Mez- 
zofanti is of this point."* 

In a letter to another friend, Count Leopoldo 

• Ibid, pp. 235-36 


Cicognara, (since known as the biographer of Canova)* 
Giordani reports the sequel of this discussion, which 
confirms in a very remarkable manner, Giordan i's 
judgment of Mezzofanti's critical sagacity. Mezzofanti 
had at first assented to Giordani's conjecture ; but 
on a closer examination he discovered, that what 
Giordani had considered the Grecisms of Yitruvius's 
style, were, in reality, but translations frviii various 
Greek authors^ from whom Vitruvius largely borrows, 
and whom he actually enumerates in the preface of 
the seventh book. Mezzofanti further pointed out 
a phrase in the same preface which at once put an 
end to the discussion, and the discovery of which, as 
Giordani justly observes, in itself " indicated an in- 
quiring and critical mind." Vitruvius, in speaking of 
the Latin writers upon his art, as contradistinguished 
from the Greek, calls them " antiqui nostri"1f 

To the same friend. Count Cicognara, Giordani in 
a previous letter, dated January 30th, 1812, had 
written of Mezzofanti's own peculiar faculty of lan- 
guages, in terms of almost rapturous admiration. 
"You know Mezzofanti," hesays ; — "Mezzofanti — the 
rarest, most unheard of, most inconceivable of living 
men. I call him, and he is, the man of all nations 
and all ages. By Jove ! he appears as though he had 
been born in the beginning of the world, and, like 

* Cicognara is mentioned by Byron in the Dedication of the Fourth 
Canto of Childe Harold (VIII. 192.) among " the great names which 
Italy has still." 

t Ibid, p. 240. 


St. Anthony, had lived in every age and in every coun- 
try !"* 

In connexion with this very rem; rkable testimony to 
the accuracy of Mezzofonti's knowledge of Greek, I may 
mention (although it more properly belongs to a later 
period of his life) an amusing anecdote illustrative of 
his accomplishments as a Latinist, which is recorded 
by Dr. Santagata, and the hero of which was M. 
Bucheron, Professor of Latin Literature in the Uni- 
versity of Turin, and one of the most celebrated 
classical philologists of modern Italy. M. Bucheron came 
to Bologna, from some cause strongly prepossessed 
against Mezzofanti, and disposed to regard hira in 
the light of a mere literary charlatan, of showy but 
superficial acquirements. Of his Latinity — especially 
in all that bears upon the critical niceties of 
the language, and the numberless philological 
questions regarding it which have arisen among 
modern scholars, M. Bucheron entertained the lowest 
possible estimate ; — considering it, in truth, impos- 
sible, that one whose attention had been divided over 
so many languages as fame ascribed to Mezzofanti, 
could he solidly grounded in any of them. He resolved, 
therefore, to put the Abate's Latinity to a rigorous 
test ; and came to the library prepared with a 
number of questions, bearing upon the niceties of the 
Latin language,.Jwhich he proposed to introduce, as 
it were casually, in his expected conversation. He 
was presented to Mezzofanti by his friend, Michele 
Ferrucci,',Librarian of the University of Pisa, from 

* Opere di Piotro Giordani, II. 231 Letter to Leopoldo Cicog- 

nara, Jan. 30. 


whom, I may add. Dr. Santagata received the account 
of their interview. The conversation, as Bucheron 
had pre-deterrained, began upon some common-place 
subject : but in a short time he artfully contrived to 
turn it upon those topics on which he desired to 
probe his companion. The trial was a most animated 
one. From a series of obscure and difficult questions 
of Latin philology, they passed to a variety 'of oriental, 
historical, and arch geological topics. At^the moment 
when the interest of the conversation was at its very 
height, Ferrucci was unfortunately called away by 
business ; but the result may be judged from the sequel. 
On his return, after a somewhat lengthened absence, 
he met Bucheron coming from the Library. 
" Well," said he, " what do you think of Mezzofanti ?" 

" Per Bacco r replied the astounded Piedmontese. 
" Per Bacco ! e il Diavolo r * 

His celebrity, indeed, was by this time universally 
established. With all his unaffected humility; with the 
full consciousness (which he expressed in all simpli- 
city and truth to his young friend, Carlino Mares- 
calchi) that he was "best fitted for the shade " — he 
had insensibly grown into one of the notabilities of 
Bologna. He was constantly visited and consulted, 
especially by Oriental students, from foreign countries. 
What is more remarkable, more than one Jewish 
scholar appears in the record of his visitors. 
Among the papers of the Abate De Rossi is a letter 
of this period (March 18th, 1812,) in which Mezzo- 

• Santagata " Sermones," p. 20-1. There is a mixture of humour 
and stateliness in the Doctor's Latin rendering of the exclama- 
tion : — " JEdepol, est Diuhulut ! " 


fanti introduces to him a certain " Signor MoisG 
Ber ; " and, notwithstanding the variety of orthogra- 
phy, (a variety quite natural in an Italian letter, 
there can be no doubt that this Signor Moise Ber 
was no other than Rabbi Moses Beer of the 
Israelite University of Rome, whose Orations and 
Discourses have since been published.* 

Mezzofanti's opportunities of conversing with for- 
eigners were much increased by his becoming perma- 
nently attached to the Library of the University (with 
which the Library of the Institute had been incor- 
porated by the French) as Deputy-Librarian. This 
appointment he received on the 28th of March, in 
1812. As the chief librarian at this time was the 
Abate Pozzetti, who, like Mezzofanti, was an honorary 
professor of the University, and one of his most 
valued friends, the appointment was especially agree- 
able to him : and, independently of its other advan- 
tages, it became for him, as I said, from the constant 
passing and re-passing of strangers from every coun- 
try, a school in which he was able to exercise himself, 
almost hourly, in every department of his multilin- 
gual studies. 

The late Lord Guilford, who was Chancellor 

* *• Orazioni Funebrie Discorsi Panegyric), di quelli pronunciati 
da Moise S. Beer, gia Rabhino Maggiore presso TUniversita Israel- 
itica di Roma." Fasclculo primo. Livorno 1837. The name Beer 
is an eminent one among the German Jews. The dramatist Michael 
Beer of Berlin ; his brother, William Beer the astronomer ; and 
a second brother, Meyer Beer the composer, (commonly written as 
one name, Meyerbeer,) have made it known throughout Europe: 
Possibly Moses Beer was of the same family. 


of the University of Corfu, made his acquaintance 
during one of his visits to Bologna ; and on every 
subsequent occasion on ^vhich he passed through 
that city, Mezzofanti was invariably his guest, 
accompanied by all the Greeks who chanced to be 
at the time students of the University. 

As his reputation extended, the literary societies 
of the various cities of Italy were naturally desirous 
to number him among their members. He was already 
an associate of the Societd Colombina at Florence, 
and of the " Society of Letters, Sciences, and Arts," 
at Leghorn ; and he received about this time, the 
decoration of the Royal Order of the Two Sicilies. The 
only literary society, however, in whose proceedings 
he took an active part, was the Scientific Academy 
of the Institute of his native city. It has been com- 
monly supposed that he rarely, if at all, appeared in 
the literary arena, and it is true that he has not 
left behind him anything at all commensurate with 
his reputation ; but he frequently read papers, chiefly 
on philological subjects, in the Bolognese Academy. 
The first of these which is noticed by Dr. Santagata 
was read on the 22nd of July, 1813; and another, 
" On the Symbolic Paintings of the Mexicans," was 
delivered in the following session, on the 23rd of 
March, 1814. Owing to his early association with 
several ex-Jesuit American Missionaries who had 
settled in Bologna, he had long felt an interest in the 
curious subject of Mexican Antiquities. Among his 
MSS., which still remain in the possession of the 
Cavaliere Minarelli at Bologna, is a Mexican Galen- 


dar, drawn up by Mezzofanti's own hand, and illus- 
trated with fac-similes of the original pictures and 
symbolical representations from the pencil of his 
niece, Signora Anna Minarelli ; but of the paper 
read in the Academy, no trace has been found. 



The year 1814, so memorable in general history, 
was also an important one in the humble fortunes of 
the Abate Mezzofanti. 

The success of the papal cause in Italy naturally 
opened a new career to the men against whom fidelity 
to the papal interest had long closed the ordinary 
avenues to distinction. 

In the close of 1813, the reverses, which, from the 
disastrous Russian expedition, had succeeded each 
other with startling rapidity, at length forced upon 
Napoleon the conviction that he had overcalculated the 
endurance of the people of France. He noAv learned, 
when too late, that the reckless expenditure of human 
blood with which his splendid successes were purchased, 
had brought sorrow and suffering to every fireside in 
every hamlet through his wide empire, and that the 
enormous levies which he still continued to demand, and 
which were called out only to perish in the fruitless 
contest with his destiny, consummated the popular dis- 
content. No longer, therefore,in a position to brave the 
public reprobation with which his treatment of Pius 


VII. had been visited, he found it necessary to res- 
tore the sembhmce of those more friendly relations 
which he had maintained with him in the less 
openly ambitious stage of his career. Accordingly, 
although among the provisions of the extorted Concor- 
dat of Fontainebleau, there was none to which 
Napoleon, in his secret heart, clung more tenaciously 
than the renunciation which it implied on the part 
of the Pontiff of the sovereignty of Rome, he found 
it necessary, notwithstanding, to yield so far to public 
sympathy as to issue an order for the Pope's 
immediate return to Italy, dated the 22nd of January, 
1814. This measure, nevertheless, had evidently been 
extorted from his fears ; and, as he desired nothing 
from it beyond the effect which he expected it to 
produce on the public mind, he contrived that upon 
various pretences the Pope's progress should be inter- 
rupted and delayed. For a short time, too, the varying 
success with which the memorable campaign of 1814 
commenced ; the opening of the Congress of Chatillon ; 
the conclusion of the armistice of Lusigny; — all served 
to re-animate his sinking hopes. Thus the Pope was de- 
tained day after day, week after week, in the south of 
France, until the close of the Emperor's death struggle, 
by the capitulation of Paris; when Pius VII. was at 
length set free to return to his capital, by an order 
of the provisional government, dated the 2nd of 
April, 1814. 

Within a few days after the communication of this 
order, Pius VII. reached Bologna. Among the ecclesi- 
astics who there hastened to offer homa^re to their 


restored sovereign, there were few who could approach 
his throne with a fuller consciousness of unsullied loy- 
alty, or who could present more unequivocal evidences 
of the truth and sincerity of the allegiance which they 
tendered, than the ex-Professor Mezzofanti, Driven 
from his chair because he refused to compromise his 
loyalty even by an ir. direct recognition of the Anti- 
Fapal government, and only restored, when, after 
the concordat of 1801, the occupation of the Lega- 
tions had been acquiesced in by the Pontificial 
government itself, he had a second time suffered the 
penalty of loyalty in a similar depravation. It will 
easily be believed, therefore, that, in the more than 
gracious reception accorded to him by the Pontiff, a 
feeling of grateful recognition of his fidelity and of 
sympathy with the sacrifices which he had made, was 
mingled with undisguised admiration of his talents 
and acquirements. 

Hence the first impulse of this munificent pope was to 
attach to his own immediate service a scholar who 
Avas at once eminent for learning, distinguished by 
piety, by priestly zeal, and by loyalty in the hour of 
trial, unstained even by the slightest compromise. 
The re-construction of the various Roman tribunals 
and congregations which, during the captivity of the 
Pope and Cardinals, had been, for the most part, sus- 
pended, suggested an opportunity of employing, 
with marked advantage for the public service, the 
peculiar talents which seemed almost idly wasted 
in the obscurity of a provincial capital. The halls and 
public offices of Rome had been the school or the 


arena of all the celebrated linguists of the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ; and the 
very constitution of the congregation and college, 
" De Propaganda Fide. " appeared specially to invite 
the services of one so eminent in that department. 
Accordingly, Pius VII. surprised the modest 
Abate by an invitation to accompany him to 
Rome, and proposed for his acceptance the im- 
portant office of the secretaryship of the Propa- 
ganda* — one of those so called poste cardinalizie,-wh\ch 
constitute the first step in the career towards the 

Mezzofanti was deeply affected by this mark of the 
favour and confidence of his sovereign. Independently, 
too, of these flattering considerations, and of the 
advantages of rank and fortune which it involved, 
the mere residence in Rome, and especially in the 
Propaganda — the great polyglot centre of the ancient 
and modern world — had many attractions for a student 
of language so enthusiastic and indefagitable. It 
was a proud thought, moreover, to follow in the 
track of Ubicini, and Giorgi, and Piromalli, and the 
Assemani's. But his modesty was proof against all 
these temptations. He shrank from the responsibility 
which this great office involved ; — and, with the every 
expression of gratitude for so distinguished an honour, 
he declined to exchange the quiet and seclusion of 
his life at Bologna, for the more brilliant, but far 
more anxious position held out for his acceptance at 

• See Stolz,"Biografia,"p. 12,Manavit,"EsquisseHistorique,"p.34. 


Not content, however, with personal solicitations, 
the Pope employed Cardinal Consalvi to use his influ- 
ence with Mezzofanti. But it was to no purpose. The 
humble Abate could not be induced to leave his native 
city. The only mark of favour, therefore, which remain- 
ed at the disposal of the pontiff, was one which Mezzo- 
fanti prized infinitely beyond the more solid, as well as 
more brilliant, offer which awaited him at Rome, — 
his re-establishment in the Professorship of Oriental 
Languages. He was formally restored on the 28th of 
April, 1814,* a few days after the departure of the 
Pope from Bologna. 

There is no doubt that on this occasion, as on that 
of his declining the invitation to Paris several years 
earlier, he Avas much influenced by those considera- 
tions, arising from his relations to the children of his 
sister, to which I already alluded, his presence in Bolog- 
na being now more than ever necessary for the com- 
pletion of their education. Indeed this wasnowthechief 
family duty which bound him to Bologna; for his father, 
who had survived his mother by several years, died, at 
the advanced age of eighty-one, in April, 1814, during 
the visit of Pius VII. to that city. 

The few notices of the Abate Mezzofanti which we 
have met up to this period, are derived almost exclusively 
from Bolognese, or at least Italian sources. During 
the long continental war, the ordinary intercourse 
with Italy was, in great part, suspended, and few 
tourists, especially of the literary class, visited the 
north of Italy. But the cessation of hostilities in 
the spring of 1814, re-opened the long interrupted 

* MemoiaiuUun in the archives of the University of Bologna. 


communication, and the annual stream of visitors to 
Rome and Naples again began to flow, with its 
wonted regularity, through the cities of the north. 
Few of the tourists who published anaccount of their 
travels at this date failed to devote some of their pages 
to one who had now become one of the chief " sights " 
of his native city. It is hardly necessary to say, 
that, in some instances, these accounts are but the 
echoes of popular fame, and exhibit the usual amount 
of ignorance, credulity, and superficial information, 
which characterise "travellers' tales." But very many, 
also, will be found to contain the judgment of acute,lear- 
ned, and impartial observers ; many of them are the re. 
suit of a careful and jealous scrutiny of Mezzofanti's 
attainments, made by critics of indisputable capacity ; 
most of them will be admitted to be of unquestionable 
value, as to one point at least — Mezzofanti's famili- 
arity with the native language of each particular 
traveller ; and all, even the least solid among them, 
are interesting, as presenting to us, with the freshness 
of contemporary narrative, the actual impressions 
received by the writer from his opportunities of per- 
sonal intercourse with the great linguist. 

I have collected from many sources, published* 
and unpublished, a variety of these travellers' notices, 
which I shall use freely in illustrating the narrative 

* Many of these will be found in Mr. Watts's interesting paper 
read before the Philological Society, January 23, 1852 : " On the 
Extraordinary Powers of Cardinal Mezzofanti as a Linguist." Some 
other notices, not contained in that Paper, have since been kindly 
pointed out to me by the same gentleman. I have been enabled to 
add several, hitherto unpublished, certainly not inferior in authority 
and interest to any of the published testimonies. 



of theremairiingyearsof thelifeof Mezzofanti. I shall 
be careful, however, in all that regards the critical por- 
tion of the biography, and especially in estimating the 
actual extent of Mezzofanti's linguistic attainments, 
only to rely, for each language, on the authority of one 
who, either as a native, or at least an unquestioned 
proficient in that particular language, will be admit- 
ted to be a perfectly competent judge in its regard. 

The autumn of the year 1814 supplies one such 
notice, which is remarkable, as the first direct testi- 
mony to Mezzofanti's proficiency in speaking German. 
He had learned this language in boyhood ; and it is 
clear from his letters to De Rossi, and from the books 
to which he freely refers in that correspondence, that 
he was intimately acquainted with it as a language 
of books. But in this year we are able for the first 
time to test his power of speaking German by the 
judgment of a native. 

The writer in question is a German tourist, named 
Kephalides, professor in the University of Breslau,* 
who (as may be inferred from his alluding to the 
Congress of Vienna, as just opened) visited Bologna 
in the October or November of 1814. " The Profes- 
sor Abate Mezzofanti," writes this traveller, who met 
him in the Library, " speaks German with extra- 
ordinary fluency, although he has never been out of 
Bologna. He is a warm admirer, too, of the literature 
of Germany, especially its poetry ; and he has stirred 
up the same enthusiasm among the educated classes in 

* He is so described by Baron Zach, (Correspondance Astrono- 
mique, IV. 145,) who commends the work highly. 


Bologna, both gentlemen and ladies."* We learn inci- 
dentally, too, from this writer's narrative, that German 
was among the langnages which Mezzofanti taught 
to his private pupils. In a rather interesting ac- 
count of an interview which he had with old Father 
Emmanuel Aponte, (one of Mezzofanti's first instruc- 
tors,) and with the celebrated lady -professor of Greek, 
so often referred to, Clotilda Tambroni, Kephalides 
mentions that the youth whom Mezzofanti sent to 
conduct him to Aponte was one of his own pupils, who 
had just begun to " lisp German." Strangely enough, 
nevertheless, Kephalides does not allude to any other 
of Mezzofanti's languages, nor even to his general 
reputation as a linguist of more than ordinary 

In the commencement of the year 1815, the chief 
Librarianship of the University became vacant by 
the death of Father Pompilio Pozzetti. Pozzetti 
Avas one of the congregation of the Scuole Pie, and 
in earlier life had been Librarian of that Ducal 
Library at Modena, which Tiraboschi has made 
familiar to every student of Italian literature. From 
the ti me of his appointment as Prefect of the 
Bologna Library, a close intimacy had subsisted 
between him and Mezzofanti ; and on the latter's 

* Kephalides, " Reise durch Italien und Sicilien," vol. I. p, 28. 
The book is in two volumes, and has no date. The above passage 
is quoted in Vulpius's singular miscellany, " Curiositaten der 
physisch-literarisch-artistisch-historischen Vor-und Mit-welt. Vol. 
X. p. 422. The Article contains nothing else of interest regarding 
Mezzofanti ; but it alludes to some curious examples of extraordinary 
powers of memory. 


being named his assistant, this intimacy ripened 
into a warm friendship. Mezzofanti was at once ap- 
pointed as his successor, on the 25th of April, 1815.* 
In the letter in which (May 15th,) he communicated 
his appointment to his friend, Pezzana, who held 
the kindred office at Parma, he speaks in terms of 
the highest praise of his predecessor and of the 
services which he had rendered during his tenure of 
office, and deplores his death as a serious loss to the 

The revenue of this office, which he held con- 
jointly with his professorship, (although both salaries 
united amounted to a very moderate sum)f placed the 
Abate Mezzofanti incomparatively easy circumstances, 
and for the first time above the actual struggle for 
daily bread. That he still continued, nevertheless, to 
instruct pupils in private, need hardly be matter of 
surprise, when it is remembered that, as we have 
seen, the support of no less than ten individuals 
was dependent upon his exertions.^ 

Indeed, once released from the sordid cares and ex- 
cessive drudgery of tuition to which his earlier years 
had been condemned, — 

The starving meal, and all the thousand aches 
Which patient merit of the unworthy takes— 

the exercise of teaching was to him rather an enjoy- 

* MS. Memorandum in the University Archives. 

f The exact amount I am unable to state. But that, aceording 
to our notions, it was very humble, may be inferred from the fact 
that, in the same University and but a short time before, Giordani's 
income from the united offices of Lecturer on Latin and Italian 
Eloquence and Assistant Librarian, was but 1800 francs. See his 
Life by Gussalli, " Opere," Vol. I., p. VJ. 

X MS. Memorandum in the University Archives. 



ment than a labour. After his removal to the Vatican 
Library, and even after his elevation to the 
Cardinalate, we shall find it his chief, if not his only, 
relaxation. Few men have possessed in a higher 
degree the power of winning at once the confidence 
and the love of a pupil. The perfect simplicity of 
his character — his exceeding gentleness — the cheer- 
ful playfulness of his manner — the total absence of 
any seeming consciousness of superior attainments — 
his evident enjoyment of the society of the young, 
and above all the unafiected goodness and kindness 
of his disposition, attracted the love of his youthful 
friends, as much as his marvellous accomplishments 
challenged their admiration. It is only just to add 
that he repaid the affection which he thus invariably 
won from them by the liveliest interest in all that 
regarded their progress, and a sincere concern for 
their happiness which followed them in every stage 
of their after life. 

By degrees, too, he was beginning, in the natural 
advance of years, to enjoy the best fruit of the 
labour of instruction, in the success, and even 
distinction, attained by his quondam pupils. One 
of these to whom he was especially attached, the 
young Marchese Angelelli, had passed through the 
University with much honour; and, in the beginning 
of 1815, published anonymously a metrical transla- 
tion of the Electra of Sophocles, which met with very 
marked favour. Mezzofanti who was much grati- 
fied by the success of this first essay, communicated 
to his friend Pezzana the secret of the authorship. 


" I send you," he writes, May 8, 1815, *' a first essay 
in translation from the Greek, published by an able 
pupil of mine, whose modesty has not permitted him 
to put his name to his work. From you, however, 
I make no secret of it. The author is one of 
our young nobles, the Marchese Maximilian Francis 
Angelelli, an indefatigable cultivator of every liberal 
study. I may add, as there is no danger of its reach- 
ing the ears of the modest translator, that this first 
efibrt is only the beginning of greater things. You 
will accept a copy for yourself, and place the other 
ill your library, Avhicli I am happy to know grows 
daily, both in extent and reputation, through the 
care of its librarian, no less than by his distinguished 

This first essay of the young poet was followed in 
the next year by a further publication, containing the 
Electra, the Antigone, and the Trachini^e ; and, a few 
years later, his master had the gratification of witness- 
ing the successful completion of his favourite pupil's 
task, by the publication of the entire seven tragedies 
of Sophocles, in 1823-4.* 

One effect of Mezzofanti's appointment as librarian 
was to separate him somewhat from his sister and her 
family. He occupied thenceforward the apartments 
of the librarian in the Palace of the University. But 
he still continued towards them the same affectionate 
protection and support. Hitherto he had himself in part 

* " Tragedie di Sofocle, recate in Versi Italiani da Massimo Angee 
lelli." 2 vols., 4to. Bologna, 1823-4. This translation is highly 
commended by Federici, in his " Notizie degli Scrittori Greci e delle 
Versioni Italiane delle loro Opere," p. 95. 


superintended ordirected the education of his nephews^ 
and especially of bis namesake Joseph, a youth of 
much promise, whose diligence and success fully re- 
quited his uncle's care. Joseph had made choice of the 
ecclesiastical profession ; and, although falling far 
short of his uncle's extraordinary gift, he became 
an excellent linguist, and was especially distinguished 
as a Greek and Latin scholar ; so that his uncle had 
the satisfaction, when his own increasing occupations 
compelled him to diminish the number of his pupils, 
of finding the young Minarelli fully competent to 
undertake a portion of the charge. 

His first public appearance at the Academy after he 
entered upon his new office, was for the purpose of read- 
ing, (July 11th, 1815,) a paper "On the Wallachian 
Language and its Analogies with Latin ;" — a subject 
which has engaged the attention of philologers and 
historians from the dfiys of Chalcocondylas, and 
which involves many interesting ethnological, as well 
as philological considerations.* As we shall find him, a 
few years later, astonishing a German visitor by his 
familiarity with this out-of-the-way language, it is worth 
while to note this essay, as an evidence that here, too, 
his knowledge was the result of careful study, and not 
of casual opportunity, or of sudden inspiration. 

For a considerable time after he took charge of the 
Library, he seems to have been much occupied by his 
duties in connexion with it. The only letter which 

• See Adelung's " Mithri dates," II., 723—30. I refer to this 
passage particularly, as explaining the peculiar difficulty which 
Wallachian, as a spoken language, presents to a foreigner, from its 
close resemblance to other languages. 


I have been able to obtain about this period, one 
addressed to Pezzana, March 5th, 1816, is entirely 
occupied with details regarding the library; and 
M. Manavit mentions that he not only obtained from 
the authorities a considerable addition to the funds 
appropriated to the purchase of books, but, moreover, 
devoted no trifling share of his own humble resources 
to the same purpose.* In the course of a few months, 
too, he was quite at ease in his new pursuit ; and the 
familiarity with the contents of the library, and even 
of the position of particular books upon its shelves 
which he soon possessed, would, in a person of less 
prodigious memory, have been a subject of wonder. 
His nephew, Cavaliere Minarelli of Bologna, was pre^ 
sent on one occasion when Professor Ranzani, while 
passing an evening in the librarian's apartments, 
happened to require some rare volume from the library ; 
and, though it was dark at the time, Mezzofauti left 
the room without a light, proceeded to the library, and 
in a few moments returned with the volume required. 
In July, 1816, Mezzofanti read at the Academy 
an essay *' on the Language of the Sette Communi at 
Vicenza," which has been spoken of with much praise. 
This singular community — descendedfrom those strag- 
glers of the invading army of Cimbri and Teutones 
which crossed the Alps in the year of Rome, 640, 
who escaped amid the almost complete extermination 
of their companions under Marius, and took refuge in the 
neighbouring mountains — presents, (like the similar 
Roman colony on theTransylvanian border, ) the strange 

• Manavit, p. 37. 


phenomenon of a foreign race and language preserved 
unmixed in the midst of another people and another 
tongue for a space of nearly two thousand years. 
They occupy seven parishes in the vicinity of Vicenza,* 
whence their name is derived ; and they still retain not 
only the tradition of their origin, but the substance, 
and even the leading forms of the Teutonic language ; 
insomuch that Frederic IV., of Denmark, who 
visited them in the beginning of the last century, 
(1708,) discoursed with them in Danish, and found 
their idiom perfectly intelligible. f 

This was a theme peculiarly suited to Mezzofanti's 
powers. His essay excited considerable interest at 
the time, but unfortunately was never printed. 

• Besides the Sette Communi of Vicenza, there are also thirteen 
parishes in the province of Verona, called the Tredici Communi; — evi- 
dently of the same Teutonic stock, and a remnant of the same Roman 
slaughter. Adelung (n.,215) givesaspecimenof eachlanguage. Both 
are perfectly intelligible to any German scholar : but that of Verona 
resembles more nearly the modern form of the German language. 
The affinity is much more closely preserved in both, than it is in the 
analogous instance of the Roman colony in Transylvania. I may be 
permitted to refer to the very similar example of an isolated race and 
language which subsisted among ourselves down to the last generation, 
in the Baronies of Forth and Bargie in the county of Wexford in 
Ireland. The remnant of the first English or Welsh adventurers 
under Strongbove, who obtained lands in that district, maintained 
themselves, through a long series of generations, distinct in manners, 
usages, costume, and even language, both from the Irish population, 
and, what is more remarkable, from the English settlers of all subse- 
quent periods. An essay on their peculiar dialect, with a vocabulary 
and a metrical specimen, by Vallancey, will be found in the Trans- 
actions of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. II. (Antiquities), 
pp. 194-3. 

t Eustace's Classical Tour in Italy, I., 142. The fact of Frederic's 
visit is mentioned by Maffei, in his Verona Illustrata. 



Southey, in one of his pleasant gossiping letters to 
Bedford, tells that when M. de Sagrie was going to 
publish a French translation of Southey 's " Roderick," 
his publisher, Le Bel, insisted upon having a life of the 
poet prefixed. M. de Sagrie objected ; and at last, in 
order to get rid of the printer's importunities, said 
that he knew nothing whatever of the life of Mr. 
Southey. " N' importe ! " was the printer's cool reply, 
" Ecrivez toujours, brodez ! Brodez-la un pen ; que 
ce soit vrai ou non, ce ne fait rien." * 

We have come to a part of Mezzofanti*s quiet and 
uniform life in which there are so few incidents to 
break the monotony of the uneventful narrative, that, 
at least in so far as its interest is concerned, his 
biographer is almost in the same condition with M. 
de Sagrie. The true purpose of this narrative, however 
— to exhibit the faculty rather than the man — seems 

* Memoirs of Robert Southey, Vol. V., p. 60. 


to me to depend less on the accumulation of piquant 
anecdotes and striking adventures, than upon a calm 
and truthful survey of his intellectual attainments in 
the successive stages of his career. Instead, there- 
fore, of having recourse to the device suggested by De 
Sagrie's enterprising publisher, and supplying, by a 
little ingenious " broderie,'* the deficiency of exciting 
incident,! shall content myself with weaving together, 
in the order of time, the several notices of Mezzo- 
fanti, by travellers and others, which have come within 
my reach ; interspersing such explanations, incidents, 
illustrations, and anecdotes, as I have been able to 
glean, among the scanty memorials of this period which 
have survived. Fortunately, from the year which we 
have now reached, there exists a tolerably connected 
series of such sketches. They are, of course, from 
the most various hands — from authors 

of all tongues and creeds; — 
Some were those who counted beads. 
Some of mosque, and some of church. 
And some, or I mis-saj, of neither; — 

but their value, it need hardly be said, is enhanced 
by this very variety. Proceeding from so many in- 
dependent sources, produced for the most part, too, 
upon the spot, and in the order of time in which they 
appear in the narrative ; — these unconnected sketches 
may be believed to present, if a less minute and 
circumstantial, certainly a more vivid as well as 
more reliable, portraiture of Mezzofanti, than could 
be hoped even from the daily scrutiny of familiar 
friends, intimately conversant with his every day life, 


but always viewing his character from the same un- 
varying point, and rather submitting the result of 
their own matured observations of what Mezzofanti 
seemed to them to be, than affording materials for a 
calm and dispassionate estimate of what he really 
was. Nor must it be forgotten that no single chroni- 
cler, even had he the circumstantiality of a Bos well, 
couldbe capable of keeping a record of Mezzofanti's life, 
which could be available as the foundation of a satis- 
factory judgment as to the real extent and nature of 
his linguistic accomplishment. It is only another 
Mezzofanti who would be a competent witness on 
such a question ; and, in default of a single Polyglot 
critic of his attainments in all the languages which 
he is supposed to have known, we shall best consult 
the interests of truth and science, by considering 
severally, in reference to each of these languages, 
the judgment formed regarding his performance there- 
in by those whose native language it was. 

I have already said that the office of librarian 
brought him into contact with most of the strangers, 
especially of the literary class, who visited Bologna. 
In Bolognese society, too, he was more courted and 
sought after than his modest and retiring disposition 
would have desired. In the house of the Cardinal- 
Archbishop Opizzoni, and of the Cardinal Legates, 
Lanti, and Spina, he was always an honoured guest. 
With several of the noble families of the city, especially 
the Marescalchi, the Angelelli, the Amerini, and the 
Zambeccari, he lived on terms of the closest intimacy. 
The Cavaliere Pezzana mentions that when, on a visit to 


Bologna in 1817, he was dining at the first named 
palace, Mezzofanti came in uninvited, and almost as 
one of the family. At all these houses his opportunities 
of meeting foreigners of every race and language 
may easily be believed to have been frequent, and of 
the most various character. 

The earliest English visitor of the Abate Mezzo- 
fanti whom I have been able to discover is Mr. Har- 
ford, author of the recent * * Life of Michael Angelo 
Buonarroti," * and proprietor of the valuable gallery 
of Blaise Castle, which Dr. Waagen describes in his 
" Treasures of Art in England." f 

Mr. Harford visited Bologna in the autumn of 1817, 
at which time he first made Mezzofanti's acquaintance. 
He renewed the acquaintance subsequently at Rome, 
and on both occasions had a full opportunity of obser- 
ving and of testing his extraordinary gift of language. 
Mr. Harford has kindly communicated to me his 
recollections of Mezzofanti at both these periods of 
life, which, (although the latter part anticipates the 
order of time by nearly thirty years,) may most na- 
turally be inserted together. 

" I first made the acquaintance of the Abbe Mezzofanti," 
writes Mr. Harford, " at the table of Cardinal Lanti, brother of 
the Duke of Lanti, then Legate of Bologna. This was in the 
year 1817. The Cardinal was then living at the public palace 
at Bologna, but I had previously known him in Rome. He was 
a man of highly cultivated mind, and of gentlemanly and agreeable 
manners. He made his guests perfectly at their ease, and I well 

* Life of Michael Angelo Buonarroti, 2 vols., 8vo. London, 1857. 
t Treasures of Art in England, By Dr. Waagen. Vol. III., 
pp. 187-94. 


recollect, after dinner, forming one of a group around Abbe 
Mezzofanti, and listening with deep interest to his animated 
conversation, which had reference, in consequence of questions 
put to him, to various topics, illustrating his wonderful acquain- 
tance with the principal languages of the world. Report, at this 
time, gave him credit for being master of upwards of forty 
languages ; and 1 recollect, among other things, his giving proof 
of his familiar acquaintance with the Welsh. 1 had some parti- 
cular conversation with him upon the origin of what is called 
Saxon, Norman, and Lombard architecture, and I remember his 
entire accordance with the opinion I threw out, that it resolved 
itself in each case into a corruption of Roman architecture. 

" My next interview with him was after a long lapse of time, 
for I did not meet him again till the year 1846, the winter of 
which I passed in Rome. The Abbe was then changed into the 
Cardinal Mezzofanti. I found him occupying a handsome suite 
of apartments in a palazzo in the Piazza Santi Apostoli. He 
assured me he well remembered meeting Mrs. H. and myself 
at Cardinal Lanti's, on the occasion above referred to ; and in the 
course of several visits which I paid him during the winter and 
ensuing spring, his conversation was always animated and agree- 
able. He conversed with me in English, which he spoke with 
the utmost fluency and correctness, and only with a slight foreign 
accent. His familiar knowledge of our provincial dialects quite 
surprised me. * Do you know much of the Yorkshire dialect ?' 
he said to me : and then, with much humour, gave me various 
specimens of its peculiarities ; ' and your Zummersetshire dialect,' 
he went on to say, laughing as he spoke, and imitating it. 

" On another occasion he spoke to me with high admiration of 
the style of Addison, preferring it to that of any English author 
with whom he was acquainted. He commended its ease, elegance, 
and grace ; and then contrasted it with the grandiloquence of 
Johnson, whose powerful mind and copious fancy he also greatly 
admired, though he deemed him much inferior in real wit and 
taste to Addison. In all this 1 fully agreed with him ; and then 
inquired whether he had ever read Boswell's Life of Johnson, 
and, finding he had not, I told him he must allow me to send it 


to him, as I felt assured, from the interest he displayed in our 
English literature, it would much amuse and delight him. This 
promise I subsequently fulfilled.* 

" Speaking to me about an English lady with whom 1 was well 
acquainted, he eagerly inquired, ' Is she a bluestocking P' 

" He one day talked to me about the Chinese language and 
its difBculties, and told me that some time back a gentleman who 
had resided in China visited him. ' I concluded,' he added, 
♦ that I might address him in Chinese, and did so ; — but, after 
exchanging a few sentences with me, he begged thai we might 
pursue our conversation in French. We talked, however, long 
enough for me to discover that he spoke in the Canton dialect.' 
" That one who had never set his foot out of Italy should be 
thus able in an instant to detect the little peculiarities of dialect 
in a man who had lived in China, did, I acknowledge, strike me 
with astonishment. 

•' This sort of critical sagacity in languages enabled the 
Cardinal to render important services to the Propaganda College 
at Rome, in which he held a high office. I was not only struck 
with the fluency, but with the rapidity with which he spoke the 
English language, and, I might also add, the idiomatic correctness 
of his expressions. 

" So much of celebrity attached itsell to his name that 
foreigners of distinction gladly sought occasions of making his 
acquaintance. On being ushered into his presence on one of my 
visits 1 found him surrounded by a large party of admirers, 
including several ladies, who all appeared highly delighted with 
his animated conversation." 

We sliall have other opportunities of adverting to 
his curiously minute acquaintance, not only with 
English literature, but even with the provincial 
dialects of English, by which Mr. Harford was so 
much struck. But, as some difference of opinion has 

* I find the work (Croker's Edition, London, 1847) in the Catalogue 
of the " Libreria Mezzofanti," p. 72. 



been expressed with regard to his acquaintance 
with Welsh, I think it right to note the circumstance 
that Mr. Harford distinctly remembers him, as 
early as 1817, to have given "proofs of familiar 
acquaintance" with that language.* 

Somewhat later in the same year, November, 1817, 
Mr. Stewart Rose visited Mezzofanti. The ordeal to 
which his linguistic powers were submitted in Mr. 
Rose's presence was more severe and more varied 
than that witnessed by Mr. Harford ; the former 
having heard him tried in German, Greek, and Turk- 
ish, as well as in English. But as we shall have 
abundant independent testimony for each of these, Mr. 
Rose's testimony is specially important, as recording 
the exceeding accuracy of Mezzofanti*s English, 
which he tested by "long and repeated conversations." 

" As this country," he writes, " has been fertile in 
every variety of genius, from that which handles the 
pencil to that which sweeps the skies with the teles- 
cope ; so even in this, her least favourite beat, she 
has produced men who, in early life, have embraced 
such a circle of languages, as one should hardly 
imagine their ages would have enabled them to obtain. 
Thus the wonders which are related of one of these, 
Pico di Mirandola, I always considered fabulous, till 
I was myself the witness of acquisitions which can 
scarcely be considered less extraordinary. 

" I may add that, in order to guard against any possible misappre- 
hension of Mr. Harford's opinion, I called his attention to the doubt 
which has arisen on the subject. In reply Mr. Harford assured me 
that he himself heard Mezzofanti speak Welsh at his first visit to 
Bologna, in 1817. 


" The living lion to whom I allude is Signor Mezzo- 
fanti of Bologna, who when I saw him, though he 
was only thirty-six years old, read twenty and wrote 
eighteen languages. This is the least marvellous part 
of the story. He spoke all these fluently, and those 
of which I could judge with the most extraordinary 
precision. I had the pleasure of dining with him 
formerly in the house of a Bolognese lady, at whose 
table a German officer declared he could not have 
distinguished him from a German. He passed the 

whole of the next day with G and myself, and 

G told me he should have taken him for an 

Englishman, who had been some time out of England. 
A Smyrniote servant who was with me, bore equal 
testimony to his skill in other languages, and declared 
he might pass for a Greek or a Turk in the dominions 
of the Grand Seignior. But what most surprised 
me was his accuracy ; for, during long and repeated 
conversations in English, he never once misapplied 
the sign of a tense, that fearful stumblingblock to 
Scotch and Irish, in whose writings there is always 
to be found some abuse of these undefinable niceties. 
The marvel was, if possible, rendered more marvel- 
lous by this gentleman's accomplishments and infor- 
mation, things rare in linguists, who generally mistake 
the means for the end. It ought also to be stated 
that his various acquisitions had all been made in 
Bologna, from which, when I saw him, he had never 
wandered above thirty miles."* 

* Letters from the North of Italy, Vol. II., p. 54. 


Mr. Rose was mistaken in supposing that Mezzo- 
fanti at this time was but thirty-six years old. He 
was in reality forty- three ; but the testimony which he 
bears to his " general accomplishments and information" 
will be found to be confirmed by very many succeeding 

It was earlier in the same year, probably in June, 
on his return from Rome to Venice,* that Lord 
Byron first saw Mezzofanti. The extract given by 
Moore from his Journal, in which he describes the im- 
pressions made upon him by their intercourse has no 
date attached ; but as he also alludes to Mezzofanti as 
among " the great names of Italy " in the Dedication 
of the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold, Avhich is dated 
January, 2nd, 1818, it would seem likely that he had 
met him at least before that date.f Of the particu- 
lars of their intercourse no record is preserved ; but 
Mezzofanti always spoke with profound interest of 
his noble visitor. He was perfectly familiar with his 
poetry. The late Dr. Cox of Southampton assured 
me that his criticism of the several poems, and espe- 
cially of Childe Harold, would do credit to our best 
reviews. And he often expressed the deepest regret 
for the early and unhappy fate, by which this gifted 
man was called away while he still lay in the shadow 
of that cold and gloomy scepticism which so often 
marred his better impulses, and — 

* See Life, IV., p. 32. He had not visited Bologna in the intervaL 
f Perhaps it might be inferred from the false spelling of the name 

the use of pA for / — (a blunder which violates so fundamental a 

rule of Italian orthography as to betray a mere tyro in the study) that 
this passage was penned soon after Byron's arrival in Italy. But 
Byron's orthography was never a standard. 


Flung o'er all that's wanu and bright, 
The winter of an icy creed. 

" Alas ! " he one day said to M. Manavit, ''that 
desolating scepticism which had long oppressed his 
soul, was not natural to such a mind. Sooner or 
later he would have awakened from it. And then it 
only remained for him to open the most glorious page 
in his Childe Harold's adventurous Pilgrimage — that 
in which, reviewing all his doubts, his struggles, and 
his sorrows, and laying bare the deep wounds of his 
haughty soul, he should have sought rest from them 
all in the peaceful bosom of the faith of his fathers."* 

Such a feeling as this on the part of Mezzofanti 
gives a melancholy interest to the well-known passage, 
half laughing, half admiring, in which Byron records 
his recollections of the great linguist. 

" In general," he says, " I do not draw well with 
literary men ; — not that I dislike them ; but I never 
knew what to say to them, after I have praised their 
last publication. There are several exceptions, to be 
sure ; but then they have either been men of the 
world, such as Scott and Moore, &c., or visionaries 
out of it, such as Shelley, &c. ; but your literary 
every-day man and I never met well in company ; — 
especially your foreigners, whom I never could abide, 
except G-iordani, &c., &c., &c., (I really can't name 
any other.) I don't remember a man amongst them 
whom I ever wished to see twice, except perhaps 
Mezzophanti, who is a monster of languages, the 
Briareus of parts of speech, a walking polyglot, and 
more ; — who ought to have existed at the time of the 

" Manavit, p. 106. 


Tower of Babel, as universal interpreter.* He is, in- 
deed, a marvel — unassuming also. I tried him in 
all the tongues in which I knew a single oath or 
adjuration to the gods, against post-boys, savages, 
Tartars, boatmen, sailors, pilots, gondoliers, mule- 
teers, camel-drivers, vetturini, post-masters, post- 
houses, post, everything ; and egad ! he astounded 
me — even to my English." 

The Abbe Gaume adds, in reference to the last of 
these languages, an anecdote still current in Rome, 
tliough doubtless a mereexaggerationf of the real story; 
viz., that, " when Byron had exhausted his vocabulary 
of English slang, Mezzofanti quietly asked : ' And is 
that all ? ' 

* Life and Works, IV., 262-3. It may be worth while to note 
this curious and characteristic passsage, as an example of what 
Byron has been so often charged with — unacknowledged, (and per- 
haps unconscious) plagiarisms from authors or works which are but 
little known. The idea of " a universal interpreter at the time of 
the tower of Babel," is copied literally from Pope's metrical version 
of the second satire of Dr. Donne, to the hero of which the same 
illustration is applied, in exactly the same way. 

" Thus others* talents having nicely shown, 

He came by sure transition to his own; 

Till I cried out: 'You prove yourself so able, 

Pity you was not druggerman [dragoman] at Babel ! 

For had they found a linguist half so good, 

I make no question but the Tower had stood.' " 

f Yet not without foundation in fact. My friend Mr. James E. 
Doyle, was assured by the late Dr. Charles R. Walsh (an English 
surgeon of great ability, who fell a victim to his exertions as an 
officer of the Board of Health, during the last cholera in London), 
that he once heard Mezzofanti " doing" the slang of a London cabman 
in great perfection. 



' I can go no further.' replied the noble poet, 
' unless I coin words for the purpose.' 

' Pardon me, ray Lord,' rejoined Mezzofanti ; and 
proceeded to repeat for him a variety of the refine- 
ments of London slang, till then unknown to his 
visitor's rich vocabulary ! " * 

During the winter of 1817-8, a literary society 
was formed in Bologna for the cultivation of poetry 
and the publication of literary and scientific essays, 
of Avhich Mezzofanti was appointed president. 

The original members of this body were twenty-one 
in number, and included Kanzani, Angelelli, Mezzo- 
fanti's nephew, Giuseppe Minarelli, several professors, 
both of the University, and of the Academia delle 
Belle Arti, and some literary noblemen and gentlemen 
of the city. They met occasionally for readings and 
recitations ; and printed a serial collection, called 
Opuscoli Letter arj di Bologna. I had hopes of 
learning something from the records of this society, or 
from the recollections of its members, which might 
tend to illustrate the history of Mezzofanti's studies at 
this period : but, unhappily, not a single original mem- 
ber of the society is now living ; and their only publi- 
cation available for the purposes of this biography is 
Mezzofanti's own Discorso in Lode del P. Aponte ; — 
his solitary publication, which was printed in the 
Opuscoli Letter arj, in 1820. 

Mezzofanti continued, even after the formation of 
this society, to frequent the meetings of the Academy 
of the Institute. On the 3rd of December, 1818, he 

* Gaume, " Les Trois Rome," II., p. 415. 


read a paper in this Academy, " on a remarkable 
Mexican MS., preserved in tlie Library of the Insti- 
tute." This paper was most probably the basis of the 
Essay upon the Mexican Calendar already alluded to. 
As it entered minutely into the whole subject of the 
hieroglyphical writings of the Mexicans, and discussed 
at some length the opinions of all the various writers 
on Mexican antiquities down to Humboldt, the paper 
created very considerable interest in the Academy, 
and was spoken of with praise by the literary 
journals of the day.* 

The visit of the Emperor Francis I. of Austria 
to Bologna in 1819, contributed still more to 
establish the reputation of Mezzofanti. Having 
appointed an interview with him, the Emperor 
took the precaution of securing during the 
audience the presence of a number of members of his 
suite, carefully selected so as to represent the chief 
languages of the Austrian Empire. Each in turn, 
German, Magyar, Bohemian, Wallachian, lllyrian, 
and Pole, took occasion to address the astonished 
professor 5 but although naturally somewhat startled 
by the novelty of the scene, and perhaps abashed by 
the presence of royalty, he replied with such perfect 
fluency and correctness to each, " as to extort not 
merely approval but admiration and applause."f 

The year 1819 is further notable as the date of 
Mezzofanti's only published composition, the above- 
named panegyric of his early friend and instruc- 
tor Emanuel Aponte. The death of this excellent and 
venerable man had occurred more than three years 

• Santagata, " Sermones Duo," p. 11, 
t Santagata, pp. 19-20. 


earlier, (November 22, 1815), and liis funeral 
oration had been pronounced by Filippo Schiassi, the 
professor of numismatics, as also by Pacifico Deani, 
whose discourse was translated into Spanish by Don 
Camillo Salina. Aponte's grateful pupil, nevertheless, 
took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the 
opening of the public studies of the university, to 
offer his own especial tribute to the piety and learning 
of the good old father, and particularly to the excel- 
lence of his method of teaching the Greek language 
and the merits of a Grammar which he had published 
for the use of the higher schools. 

The Discourse is chiefly occupied (after a sketch of 
Aponte's life and character) with a criticism of the 
method pursued in this Grammar, — a criticism chiefly 
noticeable as embodying the method, (which we know 
from other sources to have been the speaker's own,) 
of studying a language rather by rhythm than 
by rule ; " by ascertaining its normal structure, the 
principle which governs its inflexions, and especially 
the dominant principle which regulates the changes 
of letters according to the different organs of 

As a specimen of this general manner of the Dis- 
course, I shall translate the concluding paragraphs, — 
the exhortation to the study of Greek literature with 
which the professor takes leave of his audience. 

"And still shall these studies flourish, my dear young friends, 
perpetuated by you under the guidance of the instructions which 
Father Euianuel bequeathed to us. His method, which, in 
the acquisition of the language, rather exercises the reason than 


burdens theineinory, and which makes good sense the chief basis 
for the right interpreiatiort of an author, will assuredly conduct 
to the desired end that ardour which, on this solemn occasion, 
you feel renewed within you : an ardour so great that, had I 
to-day spoken solely of the difficulties and obstacles in the path of 
learning, it would, nevenheles?, give you strength and courage to 
encounter and overcome them. Well, therefore, may we have confi- 
dence in yon, and believe that you will preserve to your native 
land the fame achieved by your forefathers in Grecian studies. 
These studies are the special inheritance of our countrymen. In 
I taly the muses of Greece sought an asylum, when they fled 
before the invader from their ancient glorious abode. Learned 
Greeks were at that period dispersed through our principal cities, 
where, establishing schools, they found munificent patrons and 
zealous pupils. In Rome Grecian literature enjoyed fhe gen- 
erous patronage of Nicholas V. ; and around Cardinal Beisarion 
were gathered men of vast erudition, who renewed the lustre of the 
old Athenian schools, cultivating a wiser ])hilosophy, however, 
than the ancients employed ; and, thanks to the precious volumes 
accumulated by those two illustrious Aliecenases and by the princes 
of Italy; thanks to the skill of the masters and the apti- 
tude and excellence of Italian genius, Grecian literature, con- 
jointly with Latin, quickly attained the highest jjitch of cultivation 
amongst us, ushering in the golden age of Italian letters. A 
countless series of names distinguished in this branch of learning 
presents itself before me : but I delight rather to consider in 
prospect the future series which begins in you. Be not disturbed 
by any fear that the pursuitto which I am exhorting you will hinder 
the profounder study of the sciences. Alas, very different are the 
thoughts, very different, indeed, the cares which distract the mind 
of youth and turn its generous fervour aside, miserably disap- 
pointing the bright hopes that were formed of it. No: theo- 
logians, lawyers, philosophers, physicians, mathematicians, all 
men of science and learning, have ever found in the Greek literature 
their most agreeable solace. INIany of the sciences had, 
in Greece, early reached a high dfgrce of perfection ; others made 
a noble beginning in that country ; of them are embellished 


with titles borrowed from its language; and all of them have recourse 
to Greek when ihey wish, with precision and dignity, to de- 
nominate, and thereby to define, the objects of their consideration. 
' These studies,' says one who owed much of his eloquence to the 
industry with which he cultivated them, ' furnish youth with profi- 
table and delightful knowledge; they amuse maturer years; 
they adorn prosperity, and in adversity afford an asylum from 
care; they delight us in the quiet of home, and are no hindrance 
inaflairs of the gravest moment; they discover for us many a 
useful thing ; for the traveller they procure the regard of strangers, 
and, in the solitude of the country, they solace the mind with the 
purest of pleasures.' Let your main study, then, be the sterner sci- 
ences; Greek shall follow as a faithful companion, affording you 
useful assistance therein as well as delightful recreation. And 
thus, thinking of nothing else, having nothing else at heart, than 
religion and learning, let the expectations of your friends and of 
your country be fulfilled in you. Thus shall you correspond with 
the paternal designs of our best of princes,His Holiness, the Sove- 
reign Pontiff, who, in his munificence and splendour, daily enlarges 
the dignity of this illustrious University, promoting, by wise pro- 
visions, your education and your glory. And, whilst you vigor- 
ously prosecute the career so well begun, while your love for Greek 
increases with the increasing profit you derive from it, I, too, 
will exult in your brilliant progress. To this I will look for 
a monument, truly durable and immortal, of my dear Father 
Emanuel, to whom I feel myself bound by eternal grati- 
tude; since gratitude, reverence, and devotion are surely due 
to them who, by example and by precept, point out to us the 
road to virtue and to learning, inviting and exhorting us, with 
loving solicitude, to direct our lives to praiseworthy pursuits and 
to true happiness."* (pp. 22-26.) 

• Bologna, 1820. — It was on the occasion of the celebration of 
Father Aponte's "Jubilee" — the fiftieth anniversary of his ordina- 
tion as priest — that Mezzofanti addressed to him the Hebrew Psalm 
which will be found in the Appendix. 


Soon after the death of Father Aponte, Mezzofanti 
had the further grief of losing his friend, the cele- 
brated Signora Clotilda Tambroni, who, although 
considerably older than he, had been, as we have seen, 
his fellow pupil under Father Aponte, and with whom 
he had ever afterwards continued upon terms of most 
intimate friendship. Like Mezzofanti, the Signora 
Tambroni was, after the publication of the concordat, 
reinstated in the Greek professorship from which she 
had been dispossessed at the occupation of Bologna 
by the French. She was an excellent linguist, being 
familiar with Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, and 
English,* and a poetess of some reputation, not only 
in her own, but also in the learned languages.f The 
Breslau professor, already referred to, HerrKephalides, 
was much interested by her conversation ; and 
that the interest which she created did not arise 
merely from the unusual circumstance of a lady's 
devoting herself to such studies, but from her own 
unquestioned learning and ability, is attested by all 
who knew her. " It was a pleasant thing," says Lady 
Morgan, J " to hear her learned coadjutor [Mezzo- 
fanti] in describing to us the good qualities of her 
heart, do ample justice to the profound learning which 
had raised her to an equality of collegiate rank 
with himself, without an innuendo at that erudition, 
which, in England, is a greater female stigma than 
vice itself." 

• Reise durch Italien, I. p. 30-2. 
t Biographic Universelie (Brussels Edition), XIX., 50-1. 
X Italy, T., 292. 


The lively but caustic authoress just named, visited 
Italy in 1819-20. In her account of Bologna she 
devotes a note to the Abate Mezzofanti, under whose 
escort, (which she recognises as a peculiar advantage,) 
she visited the library and museum of the University. 

"The well-known Abate Mezzofanti, librarian to 
the Institute," she writes, " was of our party. Convers- 
ing with this very learned person on the subject of his 
' forty languages,' he smiled at the exaggeration, and 
said, that although he had gone over the outline of forty 
languages, he was not master of them, as he had 
dropped such as had not books worth reading. His 
Greek master, being a Spaniard, taught him Spanish. 
The German, Polish, Bohemian, and Hungarian 
tongues he originally acquired during the occupation 
of Bologna by the Austrian power ; and afterwards 
he had learned French from the French, and English 
by reading and by conversing with English travellers. 
"With all this superfluity of languages, he spoke 
nothing but Bolognese in his own family. With us, 
he always spoke English, and with scarcely any 
accent, though I believe he has never been out of 
Bologna. His tone of phrase and peculiar selection 
of words were those of the ' Spectator ; ' and it is 
probable that he was most conversant with the Eng- 
lish works of that day. The Abate Mezzofanti was 
professor of the Greek and Oriental languages under 
the French : when Buonaparte abolished the Greek 
professorship, Mezzoftinti was pensioned off. He was 
again made Greek professor by the Austrians, again 


set aside by the French, and again restored by tlie 

Like most of Lady Morgan's sketches, this account of 
Mezzofanti, although interesting, is not free from inac- 
curacies. Thus she falls into the common error 
already noticed, that Mezzofanti up to this time " had 
never been out of Bologna," and a still more important 
mistake as to the cause of his first deprivation of 
his professorship. He was dispossessed of this pro- 
fessorship, (which, it may be added, was not of 
Greek but of Arabic,) not because the professorship 
was suppressed, but because he declined to take the 
oaths to the new government. The account of his 
second deprivation is also inaccurate ; and the asser- 
tion that he never cultivated any languages except 
those which "had books worth reading," we shall see 
hereafter, to be entirely without foundation. 

The statement too, that " he spoke only Bolognese in 
his own family " is an exaggeration. With the elder 
members of the family — his father, his mother, and 
his sister, Signora Minarelli — it was so ; and there Avas 
a cousin of his, named Antonia Mezzofanti, a lively 
and agreeable old dame, and a frequent guest at the 
house of his sister, to whom he was much attached, 
and with whom he delighted to converse in the plea- 
sant dialect of Bologna. But the children of his sister 
were all well educated, and, like the educated classes 
throughout all the provincial cities of Italy, habitually 
spoke the common and classical Italian language. 
Even after Mezzofanti came to Rome, when ques- 

* Lady Morgan's Italy, Vol. I., p. 200. 


tioned as to the number of languages that he spoke, 
he often used jestingly to reply : " fifty, and Bolognese."* 
Very nearly at the same time with Lady Morgan's 
interview, Mezzofanti was visited by a tourist far 
more competent to form a just opinion of the extent 
of his attainments — M. Molbech, a Danish scholar, 
author of a Tour in Germany, France, England, 
and Italy. I shall close the chapter with his testi- 
mony. It is chiefly valuable, in reference to his own 
language, the Danish, in which he had an oppor- 
tunity of fully testing Mezzofanti's knowledge, in 
an interview of nearly two hours' duration. It is clear, 
too, from the very tone of his narrative, that, while he 
carried away the highest admiration for the extraordin- 
ary man whom he had seen, he was by no means dis- 
posed to fall into that blind and indiscriminate eulogy 
of which other less instructed and more imaginative 
visitors have been accused. 

" At last, in the. afternoon,'' he writes, " I succeeded in meet- 
ing one of the living wonders of Italy, the librarian Mezzofanti, 
with whom I had only spoken for a few moments in the gallery, 

* This was not a mere joke. The Bolognese dialect has so many 
peculiarities that, at least by any other than an Italian, it might well 
deserve to be specially enumerated as a distinct- acquisition. It has 
even a kind of literature of its own ; — a comedy of the 16th century, 
entitled Filolauro ; a version of the Gerusalemme Liberata ; and 
several other works named by Adelung (II., 514). The Bolognese 
Pater Noster is as follows : — 

" Pader noster, ch' si in cil, si pur santifica al voster nom ; vegna 
'1 voster reyn ; sia fatta la vostra volonta, com in cil, cosi in terra; 
'1 noster pan quotidian daz incu ; e perdonaz i noster debit, sicom 
no alteri perdonen ai noster debitur ; en c'indusi in Tentazion ; ma 
liberaz da mal. Amen." Adelung, II., 51.5. 


when I passed through Bologna before: I now spent a couple of 
hours with bin), at his lodgings in the university building, and 
at the library, and would willingly, for his sake alone, have pro- 
longed my slay at Bologna for a couple of days, if 1 had not 
been bound by contract with ilie vetturino as far as Venice. His 
celebrity must be an inconvenience to him ; for scarcely any 
educated traveller leaves Bologna without having paid him a 
visit, and the hired guides never omit to mention his name among 
the first curiosities of the town. This learned Italian, who has 
never been so far from his birthplace, Bologna, as to Florence or 
Rome, is certainly one of the world's greatest geniuses in point 
of languages. I do not know the number he understands, but 
there is scarcely any European dialect, whether Romanic, Scan- 
dinavian, or Slavonic, that this miraculous polyglottist does not 
speak. It is said the total amounts to more than thirty lan- 
guages; and among them is that of the gipsies, which he learned 
to speak from a gipsy who was quartered with an Hungarian 
regiment at Bologna. 

" I found a German with him, with whom he was conversing 
in fluent and well sounding German; when we were alone, and 
I began to speak to him in the same language, he interrupted 
me with a question in Danish, ' Hvorledes har det behaget dem i 
Italien ?' (' How have you been pleased with Italy?') After 
this, he pursued the conversation in Danish, by his own desire, 
almost all the time I continued with him, as this, according to 
his own polite expression, was a pleasure he did not often enjoy ; 
and he spoke the language, from want of exercise, certainly not 
with the same fluency and ease as English or German, but with 
almost entire correctness. Imagine my delight at such a con- 
versation ! Of Danish books, however, I found in his rich and 
excellent philological collection no more than Baden's Grammar, 
and Hallage's Norwegian Vocabulary ; and in the library Hal- 
dorson's Icelandic Dictionary, in which he made me read him a 
couple of pages of the preface as a lesson in pronunciation. Our 
conversation turned mostly on Northern and German literature. 
The last he is pretty minutely acquainted with ; and he is very 
fond of German poetry, which he has succeeded in bringing into 


lashion wilh the ladies of Bologna, so that Schiller and Goethe, 
whom the Romans hardly know by name, are here read in the 
original, and their works are to be had in the library. This col- 
lection occupies a finely-built saloon, in which it is arranged in 
dark presses with wire gratings, and is said to contain about 
120,000 volumes. Besides Mezzofanti, there are an under li- 
brarian, two assistants, and three other servants. Books are 
bought to the amount of about 1000 scudi, or more than 200^. 
sterling, a year. Mezzofanti is not merely a linguist, but is well 
acquainted with literary history and biography, and also with 
the library under his chaige. As an author he is not known, so 
far as I am aware ; and he seems at present to be no older than 
about forty. I must add, what perhaps would be least expected 
from a learned man who has been unceasingly occupied with 
linguistic studies, and has hardly been out of his native town, 
that he has the finest and most polished manners, and, at the 
same time, the most engaging goodnature."* 

Herr Molbech is still the chief secretary of 
the Eoyal Library in Copenhagen. He is one of the 
most distinguished writers on Danish philology ; 
his great Danish Dictionaryf is the classical authority 
on the language ; and, in recognition of his great 
literary merits, he has been created a privy councillor 
and a commander of the Danebrog order. 

• Molbech's Reise giennem en Dee! af Tydskland, Frankrige 
England, og Italien, i Aarene 1819 og 1820, vol. iii. p. 319, and 

f The Danske Ordbog ; first published in Copenhagen in 1833. 
The veteran author, now in hi.s seventy-first year, is actively employed 
in preparing a new edition with large additions and improvements. 



Mezzofanti's regular studies suffered some inter- 
ruption in the early part of 1820. Debilitated by the 
excessive and protracted application which has been 
described, his health had for some time been gradually 
giving way, and at last he was peremptorily ordered 
to suspend his lectures, and to discontinue his pri- 
vate studies for six months.* During this interval 
he employed himself chiefly in botanizing, a study in 
which he is said to have made considerable pro- 
gress. He also made a short excursion to the beau- 
tiful district of Mantua, and afterwards to Modena, 
Pisa, and Leghorn. f In the course of this journey 
he found an opportunity of making himself acquaint- 
ed with the Hebrew Psalmody as followed in the 
modern synagogues, and with the practical system of 
accentuation of the ancient Hebrew Language now 
in use among the Jews of Italy. The object of his 

* Manavit, p. 50 + Ibiil, p. 51. 


visit to Leghorn was, that, from the Greek sailors of 
that port, he might acquire the pronunciation of 
modern Romaic* 

After a short time his health was perfectly restored, 
with the exception of a certain debility of sight from 
which he never afterwards completely recovered ; and 
he resumed his ordinary duties in the university 
about the middle of the year 1820. 

The solar eclipse of the 20th of September in that 
year attracted many scientific visitors to Bologna and 
the neighbouring cities. Being annular in that region, 
the eclipse was watched with especial interest by 
all the astronomers of Northern Italy, by Plana at 
Turin, by Santini at Padua, by Padre Inghirami at 
Florence, and by Padre Tinari at Siena. At Bologna 
the director of the observatory at this time was 
Pietro Caturegli, editor of the Bolognese Efemeridi 
Astronomiche, and one of Mezzofanti's most valued 

Caturegli's reputation and the excellent condition 
of his observatory, induced the celebrated Hungarian 
Astronomer, Baron Von Zach, who, after a career of 
much and varied adventure, was at that time engaged 
in editing at Genoa the Correspondance Astronomique, 
(a French continuation of his former German Jour- 
nal Monatliche Correspondenz fur Erz-und Himmels- 
Kunde,) to select Bologna as the place from which 
to observe this interesting phenomenon. He was 
accompanied by a Russian nobleman. Prince Vol- 

* Letter of the Abate Matranga, dated August 17, 1835. 


konski, a man of highly cultivated literary and 
scientific tastes, and by Captain Smyth of H. M. 
Ship, Aidy who had just completed his survey of the 
Ionian Islands. Notwithstanding numerous and 
urgent applications from other quarters, these three 
distinguished foreigners, together with his friend 
Mezzofanti, were the only persons whom Caturegli 
admitted to the observatory during his observations 
of the eclipse. 

The Baron published in his Journal* a very full 
account of the phenomena of the eclipse, to %vhich 
he appended as a note the following sketch of his 
companion on the occasion. 

" The annular eclipse of the sun," he writes, " was one curioiity 
for us, and Signer Mezzofanti was another. This extraordinary 
inan is really a rival of Milhridates ; he speaks thirty-two lan- 
guages, living and dead, in the manner I am going to describe. 
Hu accosted me in Hungarian, and with a compliment so well 
turned, and in such excellent Magyar, that I was quite taken by 
surprise and stupefied. He afterwards spoke to me in German, 
ai first in good Saxon (the Criisca of the Germans,) and then in 
the Austrian and Swabian dialects, with a correctness of accent 
that amazed me to the last degree, and made me burst into a fit 
of laughter at the thought of the contrast between the language 
and the appearance of this astonishing professor. He spoke 
English to Captain Smyth, Russian and Polish to Prince Vol- 
konbki, not stuttering and stammering, but with the same volu- 
bility as if he had been speaking his mother tongue, the dialect 
of Bologna. I was quite unable to tear myself away from him. 
At a dinner at the cardinal legate's, Delia Spina, his eminence 
placed me at table next him ; after having chatted with him in 

* Correspondance Astronomique, February 20. The reader may 
be puzzled at this seemingly anticipatory date ; but the issue of the 
journal was extremely irregular, and the February number was in 
reality not published till after September in that year. 


several languages, all uf which he spoke imich better than I did, 
it came into my head to address to him on a sndden some words 
ol' Wallachian. Withont hesitation, and without appearing to 
remark what an out-of-the-way dialect I had branched off to, off 
went my polyglot in the same language, and so fast, that I was 
obliged to say to him ; * Gently, gently, Mr. Abbe ; I really 
can't follow you; I am at the end of my Latin- Wallachian.' It 
was more than forty years since I had spoken the language, or 
even thought of it, though I knew it very well in my youth, 
when I served in an Hungarian regiment, and was in garrison at 
Transylvania. The pi'ofessor was not only more ready in the 
language than I, but he informed me on this occasion, that he 
knew another tongue that I had never been able to get hold of, 
though I had enjoyed better opportunities of doing so than he, 
as I formerly had men that spoke it in my regiment. 

" This was the language of the Zigans, or Gipsies, whom the 
French so improperly call Bohemians, at which the good and 
genuine Bohemians, that is to say, the inhabitants of the king- 
dom of Bohemia, are not a little indignant. But how could an 
Italian abbe, who had never been out of his native town, find 
means to learn a language that is neither written nor printed ? 
In the Italian wars an Hungarian regiment was in garrison at 
Bologna : the language-loving professor discovered a gipsy in it, 
and made him his teacher ; and, with the facility and happy me- 
mory that nature has gifted him with, he was soon master of the 
language, which, it is believed, is nothing but a dialect, and a 
corrupted one into the bargain, of some tribes of Parias of Hin- 

The wide and peculiar circulation of the journal 
in which this interesting sketch appeared, contributed 
more than anj previous notice to extend the fame of 
Mezzofanti. As might naturally be expected, how- 
ever, details so marvellous, were received with consi- 
derable incredulity by some, and were explained away 
by others as mere embellishments of a traveller's tale. 

* Correspondance Astronomique, vol. iv. p.p. 191-2. 


In consequence, Von Zach, in a subsequent number of 
his journal, not only reiterated the statement, but 
added fuller and more interesting particulars regard- 
ing it. 

" Many personshave doubted," he writes, " what we said of this 
astonishing professor of Bologna in our fourth volume; as there 
have also been persons who doubted what Valerius Maxiiniis re- 
lates of the analogous talents of Cyrus and Milhridates. 
Although all historians have the character of being a little given 
to lying, Valerius, notwithstanding, passes for a sufficiently 
veracious author. He says in the eighth book and 9th chapter of 
his History, or ratherof hisCoinpendium of History: Cyrus ommi- 
um milituvi suorum noruina, Milhridates duarum et viginti 
gentium quce sub ret/no ejus erunt linguas, ediscendo. People 
who came several centuries ai'ler, and who probably did not know 
more than one language, and possibly not even that one correctly, 
have pretended that the twenty-two languages of Milhridates 
were only different dialects, and that Cyrus only knew the names 
of his generals. It may be so ; we know nothing of the reality, 
and consequently shall not contradict those critics ; but what we 
do know is, that Signor Mezzofanti speaks very good German, 
Hungarian, Slavonic, Wallachiau, Russian, Polish, French and 
English. I have mentioned my authorities. It has been said 
that Prince Volkouski and Captain Smyth gave their testimony 
in favour of this wonderful professor, out of politeness only. But 
I asked the prince alone, how the professor s])oke Russian, and 
he told me he should be very glad il his own son spoke it as well. 
The child spoke English an«l French better than Russian, having 
always been in foreign countries with his father. The captain 
said, ' the professor speaks English better than 1 do ; we sailors 
knock the language to pieces on board our vessels, where we have 
Scotch and Irish, and foreigners of all sorts ; there is often an odd 
sort of jargon spoken in a ship ; the professor speaks with correct- 
ness, and even with elegance; it is easy to see that he has studied 
the language.' 

" M. Mezzofanti came one day to see me at the hotel where I 
was staying : 1 happened not to be in my own rooms, but on a 


visit to another traveller who lodged in the same hotel, Baron 
Ulmenstein, a colonel in the King of Hanover's service, who was 
travelling with his lady. M. Mezzofanti was brought to me ; and, 
as I was the only person who knew him, I introduced hiui to the 
company as a professor and librarian of the university. He took 
part in the conversation, which was carried on in German ; and, 
after this had gone on for a considerable time, the baroness took 
an opportunity of asking me aside, how it came to pass that a 
German was a professor and librarian in an Italian university. 
I replied, that M. Mezzofanti was no German, that he was a very 
good Italian, of that city of Bologna, and had never been out of 
it. Judge of the astonishment of all the company, aud of the 
explanations that followed ! My readers, I am sure, will not think 
such a testimony as the Baroness Ulmenstein's open to any sus- 
picion. She is a thorough German, highly cultivated, and speaks 
four languages in great perfection."* 

One result of the doubts thus expressed as to the 
credibility of Von Zach's report was to draw out a testi- 
mony to Mezzofanti's familiarity with a language for 
which he had not before publicly gotten credit, the 
Czechish or Bohemian. A correspondent of the Baron 
at Vienna, having read his statement in the Corres- 
jwndance^ expressed his satisfaction at the confir- 
mation which it supplied of what he had before regard- 
ed as incredible. 

" I was very glad," he writes, " to see confirmed by you what 
the Chevalier d'Odelga, colonel ani commandant of Prince Leo- 
pold of Naples' regiment, told me of that marvellous man. Chevalier 
d'Odelga, who is a Bohemian, conversed in that language with 
M. Mezzofanti, and assured me that he would have taken him for 
a countryman had he not known him to be an Italian. I frankly 
confess that until now, I only half believed the tale, for I regard 
the Bohemian language as the very rack of an Italian tongue.'f 

* Correspondance Astronomique, vol. v. p. 160. 
t Correspondance Astronomique, v. 163. 


Captain (afterwards admiral) Smyth, who accom- 
panied Baron von Zach on this occasion, still sur- 
vives, after a career of high professional as well as 
literary and scientific distinction. As a reply to the 
incredulity to which Von Zach alludes, I may add 
not only that Admiral Smyth in his " Cycle of Celes- 
tial Objects for the Use of Astronomers," adopts the 
Baron's narrative and reprints it at length,* but that 
his present recollections of the interview, which he has 
been so good as to communicate to me, fully confirm 
all the Baron's statements. f The admiral adds that, 
although Mezzofanti made no claim to the character 
of a practical astronomer, he understood well and was 
much interested in the phenomena of the eclipse, and 
especially in its predicted annularity at Bologna. " It 
was at Mezzofanti's instance also," he says, " that 
Caturegli undertook to compute in advance the ele- 
ments for an almanac for the use of certain distant 
convents of the Levant, to aid them in celebrating 
Easter contemporaneously." J 

• Vol. I. p.p. 481-2, London, 1844. 

t In accounting for the appearance of such a narrative in a Journal 
with a purely scientific title. Admiral Smjth observes, that " it was 
one of Von Zach's axioms that all true friends of science should try to 
keep it afloat in society, as fishermen do their nets, by attaching pieces 
of cork to the seine_; and therefore he embodied a good deal of 
anecdote in his monthly journal of astronomical correspondence, a 
most delightful and useful periodical." 

J Mezzofanti and his friend presented to the Admiral the first 
volume of the " Ephemerides," which contained the coefiicients for 
the principal stars to be observed during five years — there were still 
at that time three years to run ; — and expressed a hope that England 
would coQtiibute funds towards the cost of the printing. On re- 


Startling, therefore, as Von Zach's account appeared 
at the time of its publication, we can no longer 
hesitate to receive it literally and in its integrity. 

In reference to one part of it, that which regards 
the manner in which Mezzofanti acquired the gipsy 
language — viz., "that he learned it from a gipsy 
soldier in one of the Hungarian regiments quartered 
at Bologna," it is proper to observe, that he appears 
also, towards the end of his life, to have studied this 
dialect from books. The catalogue of his library 
contains two Gipsy Grammars, one in German, and 
one in Italian. The peculiar idiom of this strange lan- 
guage in which he himself was initiated, is that which 
prevails among the gipsies of Bohemia and Hungary, 
or rather Transylvania, which is the purest of all 
the European gipsy dialects, and differs considerably 
from that of the Spanish gipsies. Borrow has given 
a short comparative vocabulary* of both, and has 

turning to England, tlie admiral gave this copy to the Rev. Dr. 
William Pearson, then enGragerl in the publication of his elaborate 
work on Practical Astronomy. Dr. Pearson, (at p. 493 of the 
first volume,) describing a table of 520 zodiacal stars, thus acknow- 
ledges his obligations to that work. " The same page also contains 
the N.E. angle that the star's meridian makes with the ecliptic, and 
the annual variation of that angle ; the principal columns of which 
have been taken from the Bononice Ephernerides for 1817-1822, 
computed by Pietro Caturegli, which computations have greatly 
facilitated our labours." 

* Borrow's Gipsies in Spain, p. 240. Ample specimens and descrip- 
tions of it are given by Adelung, vol. I. p.p. 244-52. It may, perhaps, 
be necessary to add that neither of these dialects, nor indeed of any 
of the dialects used by European gipsies, bears the least resemblance 


also printed the Pater Noster in the Spanish gipsy 

The notoriety Avhichtliis and other similar narratives 
procured for the modest professor, speedily rendered 
him an object of curiosity to every stranger visiting 
Bologna ; and as there was no want of critics not 
unwilling to question, or at least to scrutinize, the 
truth of the marvels recounted by their predecessors, 
it may easily be believed that his life became in some 
sort a perpetual ordeal. Thus Blume, the author of 
the Iter Italicum, who visited Bologna some time 
after Von Zach, does not hesitate to take the Baron 
to task, and to declare his account very much ex- 

" Bianconi and Mezzofanti," says Blume, "are the librarians. 
The latter, as is well known, is considered throughout all Europe 
as a linguistic prodigy, a second Miihridates; and is said to speak 
and write with fluency two and-thirly dead and living languages. 
Willingly as I join in ihis admiration, esj)ecially as his couniry- 
jiien usually display little talent for the acquisition of foreign 
tongues, I cannot but remark that the account recently given in 
the fourth and fifth volumes of Von Zach's ' Correspondance As- 

(although often confounded with it) to the " thieves' slang," which is 
used by robbers and other mauvais sujels in various countries, — the 
•' Rothwalsch" (Red Italian) of Germany, the " Argot" of France, 
the " Germania" of Spain, and the " Gergo" of Italy. All these, like 
the English " slang," consist chiefly of words borrowed from the lan- 
guages of the several countries in which they prevail, applied in a 
hidden sense known only to the initiated. On the contrary the gipsy 
idioo) is almost a language properly so called. See a singular chapter 
in Borrow's Gipsies in Spain, 242-57. For a copious vocabulary of the 
" Argot" of the French thieves, see M. Nisard's most curious and 
amusing LUterature du Colportage, II. 383-403. 


tronoinique,* is very much exaggerated. Readiness in speaking 
a language should not be confounded with philological know- 
ledge. I have heard few Italians speak German as well as 
Mezzofanti ; but I have also heard him maintain that between 
Platt-Deutsch, or the Low German, and the Dutch language, 
there was no difference whatever."* 

It will be remarked here, however, that these con- 
demnatory observations of Herr Blume do not regard 
Mezzofanti's attainments as a linguist, but only his 
skill as a philologist. On the contrary, to his lin- 
guistic talents Blume bears testimony hardly less un- 
reserved than that which he criticises in the Baron ; 
and as regards the rest of Blume's criticism, the 
m istake in philology, (as to the identity of Platt-Deutsch 
with Dutch,) which he alleges, and which appears 
to be the sole foundation of his depreciatory judg- 
ment of Mezzofanti's philological knowledge, is cer- 
tainly a very minor one, and one which may be very 
readily excused in any other than a German ; es- 
pecially as Adelung (II. 261), distinctly states of 
at least one dialect of Platt-Deutsch, that spoken in 
Hamburg and Altona, that it contains a large admix- 
ture of Dutch words — so large that a cursory observer, 
if we may judge from the specimens which Adelung 
gives (11. 268), might very readily consider the two 
dialects almost identical. As to another statement 
of Blume's, which imputes to Mezzofanti a want of 
courtesy to strangers visiting or studying in the 
library, it is contradicted by the unanimous testimony 
of all who ever saw him whether at Bologna or at 
Rome. He was politeness and good nature itself. 

* Blume's Iter Italicum, II. p. 152. 


But it must not be supposed that all the visits 
which Mezzofanti received were of the character 
hitherto described, and were attended with no fruit 
beyond a passing display of his wonderful faculty. 
Visitors occasionally appeared, whose knowledge he was 
enabled to turn to profitable account in extending his 
own store of languages. From an Armenian traveller 
who came to Bologna in 1818, he received his first 
initiation in that difficult and peculiar language, which 
he afterwards extended in a visit to the celebrated 
convent of San Lazzaro, at Venice. He studied 
Georgian with the assistance of a young man from 
Teflis, who graduated inmedicineat Bologna. And even 
from natives of those countries with the general lan- 
guage of which he was most familar, he seldom failed to 
learn some of the peculiarities of local or provincial dia- 
lects by which the several branches of each are distin- 
guished. In this way he learned Flemish from some 
Belgian students of the university. On the other 
hand, select pupils from various parts came to attend 
his Greek or Oriental lectures, or to pursue their lin- 
guistic studies privately under his direction. One of 
these, the Abate Celestino Cavedoni, now librarian of 
the Este Library at Modena, and one of the most 
eminent antiquarians of Italy, was his pupil from 1816 
till 1821. With this excellent youth Mezzofimti 
formed a cordial friendship ; and after Cavedoni's re- 
turn to Modena, they maintained a steady and 
affectionate, although not very frequent, correspon- 
dance until Mezzofimti's final removal from Bologna. 
Another was Dr. Liberie Veggetti, the present occupant 


of Mezzofanti's ancient office in the university library, 
an office which he owes to the warm recommendation 
of his former master, A third was the still more dis- 
tinguished scholar, IppolitoEosellini, the associate and 
successor of Champollion in his great work on Egyptian 
antiquities. Eosellini, who was a native of Pisa, had 
distinguished himself so much duringhis early studies 
in that university, that, on the death of Malanima, 
the professor of oriental languages, in 1819, Itosellini, 
then only in his nineteenth year, was provisionally 
selected to succeed him. It was ordered, neverthe- 
less, that he should first prepare himself by a regular 
course of study ; and with this view he was sent, at 
the charge of his government, to attend in Bologna 
the lectures of the great master of oriental studies. 
Mezzofanti entered with all his characteristic kindness 
and ardour into the young man's project. He sent 
him with a warm letter of recommendation. May 17, 
1823, to his friend De Rossi, at Parma ; later in the 
same year, by the representation which he made of his 
industry and progress, he obtained for him an increase 
of the pension which had been assigned for his pro- 
bationary studies ; and in the work * on the Hebrew 
Vowel-points,' which Eosellini published in Bologna,* 
he owed much to the kind criticism and advice 
of his master. He remained at Bologna till 1824, 
when his appointment was made absolute, and 
he returned to Pisa to enter upon its duties. The dis- 
tinguished after career of Eosellini is well-known. 

• In 1823. See an interesting biography in the Memorie di Modena, 


I shall only add, that through life he entertained the 
most grateful recollection of his old master, and that, 
on his return from the Egyptian expedition, he made 
a special visit to Rome for the purpose of seeing him.* 

The Abate Cavedoni, who, on his return to Modena, 
as we have seen, continued to correspond for many 
years with Mezzofanti, has kindly communicated 
to me those of Mezzofanti's letters which he has 
preserved. They contain some interesting particu- 
lars of a portion of his life regarding which few 
other notices have been published. 

In addition to his public lectures in the university 
and his occupation as librarian, he still continued to 
give private instructions in languages. Mr. Francis 
Hare, elder brother of the late Archdeacon Julius Hare, 
learned Italian under his direction. The Countess of 
Granville, then residing in the family of her aunt, the 
Countess Marescalchi, remembers to have received her 
first lessons in English from him . A young Franciscan 
of the principality of Bosnia prepared himself for his 
mission by studying Turkish under his tuition. Many 
other foreigners were among his pupils. Indeed, the 
ordinary routine of his day, as detailed by one of his 
surviving friends in Bologna and confirmed by his own 
letters to Cavedoni, may well excite a feeling of won- 
der at the extraordinary energy, which enabled him, 
from the midst of occupations so continuous and so 
varied, to steal time for the purpose of increasing, or 
even of maintaining, the stores which he had already 

* Manavit, p. 51. 


acquired. He rose soon after four o'clock, both in 
winter and in summer ; and, after his morning prayer 
and meditation, celebrated mass — in winter at the 
earliest light ; after which he took a cup of chocolate 
or coffee. At eight o'clock he gave his daily lecture 
in the university ; thence he passed to the library, 
where, as is plain from many circumstances, he 
was generally actively engaged in the duties of his 
office, although constantly interrupted by the visits of 
strangers. As his apartments were in the library 
building, his occupations can hardly be said to have 
been suspended by his frugal dinner, which, according 
to the national usage, was at twelve o'clock, and from 
which he returned to the library. The afternoon was 
occupied with his private pupils. As his habits of eating 
and drinking were temperate in the extreme, his sup- 
per,(sometimesin his own apartments, sometimes at the 
house of his sister or of some other friend,) was of the 
very simplest kind. He continued his studies to a 
late hour ; and, even after retiring to bed, he in- 
variably read for a short time, till the symptoms of 
approaching sleep satisfied him that, without fear of 
loss of time, he might abandon all further thought of 

Such were his ordinary every day occupations ; and, 
amply as they may seem to fill up the circle of twen- 
ty-four hours, he contrived, amidst them all, to find 
time for many offices of voluntary charity. He was 
assiduous in the confessional, and especially in receiv- 
ing the confessions of foreigners of every degree. 
For the spiritual care of all Catholic foreigners, indeed, 


he seems to have been regarded as invested with a par- 
ticular commission. In cases of sickness, especially, he 
was a constant and most cheerful visitor; and there are 
not a few still living, of those that visited Bologna du- 
ring these years, who retain a lively and grateful recol- 
lection of the kindly attentions, and the still more con- 
solatory ministrations, for which they were indebted to 
his ready charity. 

Another extra-official occupation which absorbed 
a considerable portion of his time, was the examination 
of books submitted to him for revision, particularly 
of those connected with his favourite studies. It some- 
times happened that he received such commissions 
from Rome. '* I cannot reckon,'* he writes, apologe- 
tically, to his friend the abate Cavedoni, " upon a 
single free moment. The library, my professorship, 
my private lectures, the revision of books, foreigners, 
well, sick, or dying, do not leave me time to breathe. 
I am fast losing, nay I have already lost, the habit 
of applying myself to study ; and when, from time to 
time, I am called on to do anything, I find myself 
reduced to the necessity of improvising." 

The most interesting record of this portion of his 
life will be the series of his letters to his friend and pupil 
Cavedoni, already alluded to. Unfortunately they 
are not numerous, and they occur at rather distant 
intervals ; but they are at least valuable as being 
perfectly simple and unstudied, and free, to an extent 
very unusual in Italian correspondence, from that 
artificial and ceremonious character which so often 
destroys in our eyes the charm of the cleveres- 


foreign correspondence. Cavedoni, during his studies 
at Bologna, had lived on terms of the most cordial 
intimacy with his professor and with his family. 
Mezzofanti's nephews, especially the young abate 
Joseph Mezzofanti, (whom we shall find commemo- 
rated in some of these letters under the pet name 
GiuseppinOj Joey) had been his constant companion 
and friend. 

The first of these letters was written in reply to 
one of the ordinary new-year's complimentary letters, 
which the abate Cavedoni, soon after his return to 
Modena, had addressed to his old professor. 

Bologna, January 18, 1822. 
My most esteemed Don Celestino, 

I did not fail, on the first day of the new year, to pray with 
all my heart that God may ever bestow abundantly upon you His 
best and sweetest graces. May lie deign to hear a prayer, which I 
shall never cease to offer ! I commend myself in turn to your 
fervent prayers. 

I am delighted to hear that the abate Baraldi is about to em- 
ploy his various learning and his great zeal so worthily in the 
cause of our holy religion I shall be most happy to take a copy 
of the " Memorie," which, as I am informed, are about to appear 
under his editorship. May I beg of you to arrange that the 
numbers shall reach me as early as possible after publication ? 
They may be sent through the post ; but it will be necessary to 
fold the packet in such a way as to let it be seen that it is a 
periodical, in order that it may not be charged the full postage. 
My great object is to receive the numbers at the earliest moment, 
in order that'a work which is intended to counteract the irreligious 
principles now unha])pily so current, may be read as extensively 
as possible. 

I shall examine your medal to morrow, and, should I succeed 
in making anything out of it, I will write to you. Let me know 
how I shall send it back to you. 


Recollect lliat we are looking forward here to a visit from \ou 
with the utmost anxiety. It was a great surprise and disap- 
pointment to us, not to see you during the late holy festivals. 
Do not forget me, and believe me, 

Ever your most affectionate servant, 

D. Joseph Mezzofanli. 

The journal referred to in this letter is the now- 
voluminous periodical, " Memorie di Religione, di 
Morale, e di Lettei'atura" founded at Modena in 
1822, and continued, with one or two short interrup- 
tions, up to the present time. The "Abate Baraldi" was 
a learned ecclesiastic, afterwards arch-priest of 

Cavedoni, since his return to Modena, had been 
chiefly engaged in arch geological studies, and especially 
in that of numismatics. He often consulted Mez- 
zofanti on these subjects, to which, without being a 
professed antiquarian, the latter had given some atten- 
tion. In acknowledgment of this obligation, Cavedoni, 
several years afterwards, dedicated to him his Spieci- 
legio Numismatico.* 

• I may preserve here an impromptu Greek distich of Mezzofanti's, 
addressed to Cavedoni on the publication of his " Memoir on the 
antiquities of the Museum of Modena," which, although commonplace 
enough in sentiment, at least illustrates his curious facility of 

"Etj KatAiSrhov Kcc-js66viov, 

Mvri/ji,ara tuu TraXa/ avd^wxuv so^og ocd dvaipaivug, 
"Ex y^^ovog 'i rrspdn' eov Be -/JAog QctkUn. 
It was an impromptu in the literal sense of the word, being 
thrown off without a moment's thought, and in the midst of a group 
of friends. His friend Ferrucci rendered it into the following Latin 


Celestino Cavedoni o. 
Omnia que prudens aperis monumenta priorum 
JS,yo intacta raanent : hinc tibi fama viget. 


The following letter throws some light on the time 
and the manner in which his attention was first 
turned to the Georgian language. The youth to 
whom it refers was in Bologna in the year 1820 or 

Cavedoni had apologised for occupying his time by 
his letters. 

Bologna, April 5, 1 823. 
My Dear Don Celestino, 

It will always be a most grateful and pleasing distraction 
for me in the midst of my endless occupations, to receive even a 
line from you. It is true that occasionally I may not be able to 
enjoy this gratification without the drawback arising from regret 
at not having it in my power to reply to you immediately ; but 
I trust that you will be able to make allowance for me, and that 
such delays on my part will never cause you to suspect that I 
have ceased to remember you with special affection. 

Of the two works which you mention, that of Father Giorgi 
still maintains the reputation which its author commanded during 
life by his prodigious learning. V/ill you let me know whether 
the little work in Georgian that you refer to is printed or manu- 
script ? You are quite right in supposing that I have not thought 
of that language since the departure of the young physician of 
Teflis, who took his medical degree in our university. Alas 1 
what a large proportion of my life is spent in teaching! If I 
bu* did that well, I might be content ; but when one does too 
much, he does nothing as it ought to be done. 

I had not heard a word of Signer Baraldi's affliction, for which 
I am much concerned. I trust that, when you write again, yon 
will have better news for me. Pray present my special compli- 
ments to the Librarian. 

Do not forget me; and, in order that I may know you do not, 
write often to assure me that it is so. Don Giuseppino sends 
you a thousand greetings, and I myself more that a thousand. 
Ever your most devoted servant and friend, 

D, Joseph Mezzofanti. 


In this year, Mezzofanti made the acquaintance of 
the celebrated Duchess of Devonshire, during one of 
her visits to the north of Italy. The success of her 
magnificent edition of Horace's Fifth Satire — his jour- 
ney to Brundusium — had suggested to her the idea 
of a similar edition of the Eneid. The first volume, 
with a series of illustrations, scenical, as well as his- 
torical, (of Troy, Ithaca, Gaeta, Gabii, &c.,) had 
appeared in Eome in 1819 ;* and the object of the 
duchess in this visit, was to procure sketches in the 
locality of Mantua, and especially a sketch of Pietole, 
the supposed site of the ancient Andes, the place of 
the poet's birth, upon that plain, 

— — tardis ingens ubi flexibus evrat 

' One of Mezzofanti's letters, addressed to his friend 
Pezzana, shews the lengths to which this eccentric 
lady carried her zeal for the illustration of this really 
magnificent work. Although the second volume had 

* " L'Eneide di Virgilio,recata in versi Italiani,da AnnibaleCaro," 
2vols. folio. It was printed by DeRomanis. The duchess wastheLady 
Elizabeth Hervey, daughter of the episcopal Earl of Bristol; andafter 
the death of her first husband, Mr. Forster, had married the Duke 
of Devonshire. She is the true heroine of Gibbon's ludicrous love- 
scene at Lausanne, described by Lord Brougham, but by him relat- 
ed of Mademoiselle Susan Curchod, afterwards Madame Necker. See 
an article in the Biographie Universelle, (Ixii, p. 452,) by the 
Chevalier Artand de Montor ; also " Critical and Miscellaneous 
Essays, (vol. i., p. 64,) by au Octogenarian," (the late Mr. 
James Roche, of Cork, the J. R. of the Gentleman's Magazine, and 
a frequent contributor to the Dublin Review, and other periodicals) — 
a repertory of curious literary and personal anecdotes, as well of 
solid and valuable information. 


been already published, and many of the copies had 
been distributed, she continued to add to the 
number of the illustrations. 

" Her Grace, the duchess of Devonshire," he writes, July 6lh, 
1823, " on leaving Bologna, commissioned me to forward to you 
the second volume of the Eneid, translated by Caro. In order to 
secure its safe and punctual delivery, I begged the good offices 
of the Abate Crescini, who had just then arrived ; and he at once 
undertook it with his usual courtesy. This edition has won the 
admiration of all our artists ; and the duchess, not content with 
its present illustrations, has gune to Mantua, taking with her 
another excellent landscape-painter, our fellow-citizen, Signor 
Fantuzzi, to make a sketch of Pietole, to be added to the other 
plates, which already adorn this splendid work of art." 

In August, 1823, died the venerable Pope Pius 
VII. The desire, which, on his return from capti- 
vity, he expressed to secure Mezzofanti's services in 
his own capital, had been repeated subsequently on 
more than one occasion. The new Pope, Leo XII. , 
regarded him with equal favour ; but his attachment 
to home still remained unchanged ; and the Pope 
named him, in 1824, a member of the Collegio dei con- 
sultori at Bologna. 

Of his correspondence during this year no portion 
has come into my hands ; but there is one of his letters 
of 1825, (dated April 8th,) which, although it is but 
an answer to a commonplace letter written to him 
by Cavedoni, with the catalogue of an expected sale 
of books, seems worthy to be preserved, at least as 
an indication of the direction and progress of his 


"It is always difficult," he writes, " to fix the fair price of a 
class of books which either are not in the market at all, or which 
appear but seldom for sale, chiefly because theie are but few who 
seek for such ])ublications. In my caso, it becomes almost 
impossible to determine it, as I have no opportunity of seeing the 
books, and very little leisure even to examine the catalogue, being 
obliged to return it in so short a time. 

" I only venture, therefore, to select a ievr, which I should be 
disposed to take, provided the price of all together shall not exceed 
forty Roman crowns. Try to make a bargain for me, or at all 
events, endeavour to prevent the books from being either scat- 
tered or buried in some inaccessible corner. 

" I should wish then to take the following : — 

The ' nine 31 SS,, either extracted from printed books, or of 
uncertain value.' 

The ' Grammatica Japonica,' Itoma3 No. 22, in the Catalogue. 

The * Grammatica Marasta/ * number 32. 

The ' Grammatica Linguee Amharicae.'f number 43. 

The ' Osservazioni sulla Lingua albanese ;' number 44. 

The * Grammatica Damulica,'* number 46. 

Benjamin Schulz's, ' Grammatica Hindostanica,' number 50. 

'Chilidugu; sive ses Chilenses,'§ ^number C7. 

Aiid the ' Catecismo en Lengua Espanola y Moxa,'|| No 71. 

I shall await your reply." 

Only one of these works, tlie "Observations on the 
Albanese Language," (by Francis Maria da Lecce,) 

* This is probably the Grammar of the Mahratta language, pub- 
lished by the Propaganda, in 1778. The name is sometimes latinized 
in this form. Adelung, I., 220. 

t Most likely Ludolf's, Francfort, 1698. 

t ByBarth. Ziegenbolg, Halle, 1716. 

§ Bernard Havestadt, " Descriptio Status turn Naturalis, turn 
civilis, tuai Moralis, Regni Populique Chilcnsis," Munster, 1777. It 
contains a Chilian Grammar and Vocabulary, together with a Cate- 
chism in prose, and also in verso. 

II Probably the Catechism in the Moxa (South American) Ian- 
guage, mcationcd by Hervas. See Adelung, III, 564. 



appears in the catalogue of Mezzofanti's Library. 
Benjamin Schulz's Tamiil Bible and New Testament, 
are both in that catalogue, but not his Hindostani 
Grammar. Probably the price of the books exceeded 
the very modest limit which Mezzofanti's humble 
means compelled him to fix. 

lu the August of 1825, he had a visit from the 
veteran philologist and Uterateur, Frederic Jacobs, of 
Gotha. The report of Jacobs may be considered of 
special importance, as he had been prepared, by the 
doubts expressed as to the credibility of Baron Yon 
Zach's report, to scrutinize with some jealousy the real 
extent of the attainments thus glowingly described. 
It is important, therefore, to note that after quoting 
all the most material portions of Von Zach's narrative, 
he fully confirms it from his own observations — 

" I was most kindly received by him," says Dr. Jacobs : " we 
spoke ill German for above an hour, so that I had full opportunity 
for observing the facility with which he spoke ; his conversation 
was animated, his vocabulary select and appropriate, his pronun- 
ciation by no means foreign, and I could detect nothing but here 
and there a little of the North German accent. He was not un- 
acquainted with German literature, spoke among other things of 
Voss's services in the theory of metre, and made some obser- 
vations on the imitation of the metrical system of the ancients. 
His opinions were precise and expressed without dogmatism. This 
fault, so common among persons of talent, appears quite foreign 
to him, and there is not a trace of charlatanism about him.'' 

As a somewhat different opinion has been expressed 
by others, the reader will observe the testimony 
borne by Jacobs, not only to Mezzofimti's scholarship 
and philological attainments in a department but 
little cultivated, but also to the "selectness and appro- 


priateness" of his German vocabulary, the ''facility 
with which he spoke," and the general purity and 
correctness of his conversational style. 

He proceeds to describe another peculiarity of 
Mezzofanti's extraordinary faculty which is equally 
deserving of notice, but which no other visitor whom 
we have hitherto seen, has brought out so strongly. 

" Not less remarkable are the ease and readiness with which 
he passes in conversation from one language to another, from the 
north to the south, from the east to the west, and the dexterity 
with which he speaks several of the most difficult together, with- 
out the least seeming effort ; and whereas, in cognate languages, 
the slightest difference creates confusion ; — so that, for instance 
the German in Holland or the Dutchman in Germany, often mixes 
the sister and mother tongues so as to become unintelligible ; — 
Mezzofanti ever draws the line most sharply, and his path in each 
realm of languages is uniformly firm and secure." 

We may also add Professor Jacobs' description of 
the personal appearance of the great linguist at this 
period of his life. 

" Mezzofanti," he says, '* is of the middle size, or rather 
below it ; he is thin and pale, and his whole appearance indicates 
delicacy. He appears to be between fifty and sixty years old 
[he was really, in 1825, fifty-one] ; his movements are easy and 
unembaiTassed ; his whole bearing is that of a man who has mix- 
ed much in society. He is active and zealous in the discharge 
of his duties, and never fails to celebrate mass every day."* 

I have thought it necessary to draw the reader's 
attention to these points, in reference to Mezzofanti's 
German, in order that he may compare them with 
the observations of Dr. Tholuck, Chevalier Buusen, 
Guido Gorres, and other distinguished Germans, who 
visited him at a later period. 

• Fr. Jacobs, Vermischte Schriftcn, vol. vi. p. 317, and following. 


All his later letters to the Abate Cavedoni, which 
are filled with apologies for his tardiness as a corres- 
pondent, tell the same story of ceaseless occupation. 

" A Franciscian friar of the Bosnian province," he writes, 
November 23rcl, 1825, " who has been learning Turliish with me 
for the purposes of his mission in Bosnia, being on his way 
to Modena, has called to incjuire whether I have any occasion 
to write to that city. The remorse which I feel at not having 
written to you for so long a time, makes it impossible for me to 
give a denial ; and I write this letter, into which I wish I could 
crowd all the expressions of gratitude which I owe to you for your 
constant and faithful remembrance of one, who, although he cer- 
tainly never forgets you, yet rarely gives you, at least in writing, 
the smallest evidence of his remembrance. 

The truth is that I should only be too happy to do so, and that 
it would seem to me but a renewal of the pleasant literary discus- 
sions which we used to hold with one another here. But unfor- 
tunatel}', I am too much occupied to indulge myself with this re- 
laxation. I say this, however, only to excuse myself; for I 
assure you that I look eagerly for letters from you, and that it is 
a creat comfort to me to receive one. 

As regards those words terminating in He which are now com- 
monly used by medical writers, although their formation is not 
grammatically exact, and although they do not precisely correspond 
with those which were employed by the ancients, yet as they have 
now obtained general currency, it would be hyper- critical and use- 
less to seek to reform them. You may satisfy grammarians by a brief 
annotation to show that you do not overlook what is due to their 
art — I mean of course Greek grammarians; for I suppose our own 
grammarians will perhaps prefer the termination which has been 
sanctioned by use, and which may possibly appear to them less 
disagreeable. You see that I am but repeating your own opinion, 
and if I did not write sooner to you on the subject, it was because 
ray own judgment fully agreed with what you had expressed in 
your letter. 

1 congratulate you on the success of your brother's studies. I 
have been much gralitied by the learning, the industry, and the 
zeal for religion, which he has displayed. OlTer him my best 


Remember me in vour pravers : write to me, and believe me 
uDchaiigiiigly yours.'' 

The same regrets are still more strikingly expres- 
sed in the following letter. 

"I have been wishing, for several days past, to write and thank 
you heartily for your kindness towards me, but it is only this 
day that I have been able to steal a moment for the purpose. 
Be assured that I do not forget how patiently you bore with me, 
while, in the midst of the thousand distractions to which I was 
liable, we were reading together the Greek and Oriental lan- 
guages. If I recal to your recollection the manner of ray life at 
that time, and the ever recurring interruptions of my studies, it 
is only for the purpose of letting you see that, as the same state 
of things still cominues, or rather has been changed for the worse, 
I have not time to show my gratitude for your constant remem- 
brance of me. Still I thank you from my heart for it. 

I have not been able to read much of your Tasso, but I ha\e 
observed some readings which appear to me very happy. I told 
Count Valdrighi, that I intended to write to you about the volume 
which Monsignor Mai has just published, to request that you, 
or some others of your friends in Modena, would take copies of 
it, as I have some to dispose of. I have since learned that yon 
are already supplied. I beg, nevertheless, that you will take 
some public occasion to recommend it. I would do so willingly 
myself, but I cannot find a single free moment. The library, my 
professoiship, my private lectures, the examination of books, the 
visits of strangers, the attendance on sick or dying foreigners, do 
not leave me time to breathe. In all this I possess one singular 
advantage — the excellent health with which I am blessed. But 
on the other hand, I am losing, or indeed I have already lost, my 
habit of ai)plicaiion ; and now, if I am called from lime to time to 
do anything, I 6nd myself reduced to thenecessity of improvising. 

Forgive me, my dear Don Celestino, for entering thus min- 
utely into my own affairs. Set it down to the account of our 
friendship, in the name of which I beg of you to remember me 
in your prayers. Continue to write to me as of old ; for, in the 
midst of my heaviest occupations, I receive your letters with the 


greatest pleasure, and find a real enjoyment in them, and in the 
reminiscences which they bring with them of the liappiness that 
I formerly enjoyed in your dear society. 
JMy sister and my nephews present their most cordial greetings. 
Bologna, March, 27, 1826." 

It is about this time that we may date the com- 
mencement of that intimacy between Mezzofanti and 
Cardinal Cappellari, afterwards Pope Gregory XVI., 
which eventually led to Mezzofanti's removal from 
Bologna to Rome. Cappellari, a distinguished monk 
of the Camaldolese order, was named to the cardi- 
nalate early in 1826 ; and soon afterwards was 
placed at the head of the congregation of the Propa- 
ganda. Being himself an orientalist of considerable 
eminence, he had long admired the wonderful gifts of 
Mezzofanti, and a circumstance occurred soon after his 
nomination as prefect of the Propaganda, which led to 
a correspondence between them, in reference to an 
oriental liturgical manuscript on which the opinion 
of the great ling:uist was desired. Cardinal Cappellari 
forwarded the MS. to Mezzofanti, who in a short 
time returned it, not merely with an explanation, 
but with a complete Latin translation. The Cardi- 
nal was so grateful for this service, that he wrote to 
thank the translator, accompanying his letter with a 
draft for a hundred doubloons. Mezzofanti, with a 
disinterestedness which his notoriously straitened 
means made still more honourable, at once wrote to 
return the draft, with a request that it should be 
applied to the purposes of the missions of the Propa- 

• Stolz. Biogrqfia, p. 10. For the details, however, I am indebted 
to an interesting communication from the abate Mazza, Vice-Refitor 
of the Pontifical Seminary at Bologna. 


This appeal from Cardinal Cappellari was not a 
solitary one. Mezzofanti was not unfrequently con- 
sulted in the same way, sometimes on critical or 
bibliographical questions, sometimes as to the cha- 
racter or contents of a book or MS. in some unknown 
language. One of his letters to the abate Cavedoni 
is a long account of an early Latin version of two of 
St. Gregory Nazianzen's minor spiritual poems, the 
" Tetrasticha" and the *' Monosticha." As this letter 
(although not without interest as being the only 
specimen of his critical writings which I have been 
able to obtain) would have little attraction for the 
general reader, and throws but little light upon the 
narrative, it is unnecessary to translate it.* There is 
another letter, however, of nearly the same period? 
addressed to his friend count Valdrighi of Modena, 
on the subject of a MS. in the Birman language sub- 
mitted by the count for his examination, which will 
be read with more curiosity. 

* The anthoi* of this version, Ercole Faello, is not mentioned by 
Tiraboschi, nor can I find any other notice of him. His version has 
no value, except perhaps as a bibliographical curiosity ; and Mszzo- 
fanti's criticism of it in his letter to Cavedoni, is the most judicious 
that could be offered — the simple recital of a few sentt-nces as a spe- 
cimen of its obscure and involved style. The Tetrasticha, especially, 
deserves a better rendering. It consists of fifty-nine iambic tetras- 
tichs, many of which, besides the solid instruction which they era- 
body, are full of simple beauty. The Monosticha is chiefly notable 
as an ancient example of an acrostic poem on a spiritual subject. It 
consists of twenty-four iambic verses, commencing in succession with 
the successive letters of the alphabet, thus : — 

' A^^rjv arravrm ku! reXog to/s &i6v 

Jiia TO xi^dog sx.l3iSv xad' r;ij,ipav. x.r.X. 
Faello's version appears not to have been known to the Benedictine 


To Count Mario Valdrighi. 
" I have to reproach myself for not being more promj)! in my 
acknowledgement of your polite letter; or rather I regret the re- 
solution which I formed of delaying my answer in the hope of 
being able to make it more satisfactory ; since thus it has tunied 
cut, that while I was only waiting in the hope of being able to 
reply with greater accuracy, I have incurred the sns])icion of 
discourtesy, by delaying to send you the little information re- 
garding your oriental MS. which 1 possessed at the time, and 
Avhich I regret to say is all that even still I am possessed of. 

Although your MS. is the first in these characters that I have 
ever seen, yet I recognized it at once as a MS. written, or, I 
should more correctly say, graven, in Burmese, the native lan- 
guage of the kingdom of Ava, and the language also which is 
used by all persons of cultivation in the dependent provinces of 
that kingdom. I was enabled to I'ecognize the form of the cha- 
racters from having once seen the alphabet, which was printed 
by the Propaganda, first in 1776, and again in 1787.* 

As my knowledge in reference to the language when I received 
your letter, did not extend any farther, I was unable to give you 
any other information regarding your MS. except that it is 
composed of that species of palm leaves which they use in that 
country, for the purpose of inscribhjg or engraving their written 
characters thereon. The tree, which does not differ much in 
appearance from the other species of palm, is said to live for a 
hundred years, and then to die as soon as it has produced its 
fruit ; but perhaps it may be said to live on by preserving on its 
leaves the writings which they wish to transmit to posterity. It 
is called in Burmese (or Birmese) by the name of Ole. 

You will ask what is the character of their writings. The 
people are said to be ignorant in the extreme, and even the class 
called Talapuini, who live together in community in a sort of 
Pythagorean college, possess but very little learning, TJieir 
studies are confined to two books, written in a peculiar charac- 

• See Calalogo delta Libreria, p. 65. 


ter, one entitled iTammwa, the other Padinot.* The Barnabite 
Fathers also, who founded several churches in Ava, and preached 
the gospel with incredible zeal all over those vast regions, have 
written in the native language, several useful books calculated to 
maintain and increase the fruit of their apostolic labours. The 
mostremarkableofthem was Mgr. Peristo,uho wrote and spoke the 
language with great perfection, and whose life has been written 
by the late distinguished Father Michael Angelo Griffini. 

I was about to write all this to you as soon as I first received 
your MS., but I was anxious to be able to tell you something 
more ; and with this view, I waited for a long time in the hope 
of obtaining from Paris, Carey's Birmese Grammar, published 
at Serampore in 1 814, and some other books besides; as such 
books must necessarily be in existence, now that the English have 
added to their Indian possessions a large tract of the Birmese 
Empire. But unfortunately, these books either are not to be 
had at Paris, or have not been carefully sought for. 

Accordingly, after all these months of delay, I return you your 
Birmese MS. written on the leaves of the Ole palm. It has 
most probably found its way to Italy through some missionary, 
and peihaps was written by a missionary. This, however, will 
likely be discoverable from the facts which are known as to the 
place whence it came. 

The information which I am able to give is, you see, very little 
compared with jwhat you might have expected, and bears a still 
smaller proportion to my desire to oblige you. I should have 
wished to translate it all for you, had it been in my power, if it 
were only as a means of expressing my gratitude and my homage 
to one from whom I receive so many kindnesses, and to whom I 
am indebted for so many charming books, either composed or il- 
lustrated by himself. For all these favours it only remains for 

• For an account of these books see Father Vincenzo Sangermano's 
Reluziune del Eegno Barmano, Rome, 1833. Sangermano was a 
Barnabite Father, and bad been for many years a missionary in Ava 
and Pegu. He states that he himself translated these sacred books, 
(p. 359.) His orthography'of the names is slightly diflFerent from 


me lo offer ^ou niv most unbounded thanks. 1 trust that, if you 
should chance to honour nie again with any coiumission, I shall 
be able to execute it more successfully, or at all events more satis- 
factorily. I will at least promise not to delay as I have now done, 
in the hope of obtaining more information ; but, relying that your 
kindness will lead you to accept what little explanation I shall be 
able to afford from myself, I will at least endeavour to show my 
anxious wish to oblige by the promptness of my reply." 

Neither Carey's Birman Grammar, nor any other 
modern book on the subject, appears in the catalogue 
of Mezzofanti's library. It comprises, however, a few 
Birman books, amongst which are the two alphabets 
referred to in the above letter, a translation of Bellar- 
mine's "Doctrina Christiana," and an "Explanation of 
the Catechism for the use of the Birmese." These 
books (all printed at the Propaganda press) appear 
to have been procured after his removal to Rome, 
where by private study and by intercourse with a 
few Birmese students in the Propaganda, he acquired 
the language, as we shall see, sufficiently for the pur- 
poses of conversation. 



In the year 1828, the Crown Prince of Prussia, 
(now King Frederic William,) while passing through 
Bologna, on his way to Rome, sought an interview 
with Mezzofanti. In common with all other visitors? 
he was struck with wonder at the marvellous variety 
and accuracy of his knowledge of languages. On his 
arrival at Rome, he spoke admiringly of this inter- 
view to Dr. Tholuck, the present distinguished pro- 
fessor of Theology at Halle, (at that time chaplain of 
the Prussian Embassy in Rome,) who has kindly 
communicated the particulars to me. " The prince 
urged me," says Dr. Tholuck, in an exceedingly in- 
teresting letter which shall be inserted later, '* not to 
leave Italy without having seen him. ' He is truly a 
miracle,' exclaimed the prince ; ' he spoke German 
with me, like a German ; with my Privy-Councillor 
Ancillon, he spoke the purest French ; with Bunsen, 
English ; with General Groben, Swedish.' 'And what 


is still more wonderful/ subjoined M. Bunsen, then 
minister resident in Rome, * all these languages he 
has learnt by books alone, without any teacher.' " 
This opinion of M. Bunsen's, Dr. Tholuck afterwards 
ascertained to be a mistake, or at least an exagger- 

It was doubtless to the lessons of his early mas- 
ter, Father Thiulen, that he owed the knowledge of 
Swedish which enabled him to converse with General 
Grobeu. A still more distinct evidence of his 
familiarity with it occurred on occasion of the visit 
of the Crown Prince (now King) Oscar of Sweden 
to Bologna. M. Braunerhjelm, now Hof-Stallmastare 
at Stockholm, who was present at the prince's inter- 
view with Mezzofanti, assured Mr. Wackerbarth, who 
was good enough to make the inquiry for me last year, 
that "the abate spoke the language quite perfectly." 
According to another account which I have received, 
the prince, having suddenly changed the conversa- 
tion into a dialect peculiar to one of the provinces 
of Sweden, Mezzofanti was obliged to confess his in- 
ability to understand him. What was his amaze- 
ment, in a subsequent interview, to hear Mezzofanti 
address him in this very dialect ! 

•• From whom, in the name of all that is wonder- 
ful, have you learnt it ?" exclaimed the prince. 

" From your Royal Highness," replied Mezzofanti. 
" Your conversation yesterday supplied me with a 
key to all that is peculiar in its forms, and I am merely 
translating the common words into this form." 

The Countess of Blessington, in the third volume 


of her " Idler in Italy," has given an account of her 
intercourse with Mezzofanti during this year. She 
adds but little to the facts already known as to 
Mezzofanti's linguistic attainments ; but it may not 
be uninteresting to contrast with the ponderous and 
matterof fact sketches of the professional scholars whom 
we have hitherto been considering, the lighter, but in 
many respects more striking portraiture of a lady 
visitor, less capable of estimating thesolidity of hislearn- 
ing, but more alive to the minor peculiarities of his 
manner, to the more delicate shades of his character 
and disposition, and to the thousand minuter special- 
ities, which, after all, go to form our idea of the man. 
Lady Blessiiigton had been present at the solemn 
mass in the church of St. Petronius at Bologna on 
the morning of the Festival of the Assumption. An 
adventure which befel her at the close of the cere- 
mony led to her first meeting with the great lin- 
guist, which she thus pleasantly describes. 

" While viewing the procession beneath the arcades, I was 
inadvertently separated from my party, and found myself hurried 
along by the crowd, hemmed in at all sides by a moving mass 
oC strangers who seemed to eye me with much curiosity. To dis- 
entangle myseir from the multitude would have been a diflicult, 
if not an impossible task; and I confess I experienced a certain 
degree of trepidation, inseparable from a woman's feelings, at 
finding myself alone in the midst of a vast throng not one face 
of which I had ever previously seen. Great then was my satis- 
faction at hearing the simple remark of ' We have had a very 
fine day for the fete,' nttered in English, and with as good a 
pronunciation as possible, by a person having the air and dress 
of a clergyman, to another who answered : ' Yes, nothing could 
be more propitious than the weather.' 


Though it is always embarrassing to address a stranger, the 
sound of my own language, and the position in which 1 was placed, 
gave me courage to touch the arm of the first speaker, and to 
state, that being separated from my party, I must request the 
protection of my countryman. He turned round, saluted me 
graciously, said that, though not a countryman, he would gladly 
assist me to rejoin my party, and immediately placed me between 
him and his companion. 

'You speak English perfectly, yet are not an Englishman!' 
said I. ' Then you can be no other than professor Mezzofanti ?' 

Both he and his companion smiled, and he answered ; • My 
name is Mezzofanti.' 

I had a letter of introduction from a mutual friend, and, in- 
tendin to leave it for him in the course of the day, I had put it 
into my reticule, whence I immediately drew it and gave it to him. 
He knew the hand-writing at a single glance, and, with great 
good breeding, put it unopened into his pocket, saying something 
too flattering for me to repeat, in which the reu)ark, that a good 
countenance was the best recommendation, was neatly turned. 
He presented his companion to me, who happened to be the Abbe 
Scandalaria^ then staying on a visit to him, and who speaks Eng- 
lish remarkably well. 

My party were not a little surprised to see me rejoin them, ac- 
companied by and in conversation with two strangers. When 1 
presented them to my new acquaintances, they were much amused 
at the recital of my unceremonious encounter and self-introduction 
to Mezzofanti, who not only devoted a considerable portion of 
the day to us, but promised to spend the evening at our hotel, 
and invited us to breakfast with him to-morrow. 

The countenance of the wonderful li)iguist is full of intelligence, 
his manner well-bred, unaffected and highly agreeable. His 
facility and felicity in speaking French, German, and English, is 
most extraordinary, and I am told it is not less so in various 
other languages. He is a younger man than I expected to find 
him, and, with the vast erudition he has acquired, is totally ex- 
empt from pretension or pedantry." * 

Idler in Italy, III p 321. 


An adventure witli Mezzofanti, quite similar to 
Lady Blessington's, befel a party of Irish ecclesiastical 
students on their way to Rome in the very same 
year. T hey arrived at Bologna late in the afternoon, 
and, as they purposed proceeding on their journey 
early on the following morning, they were unwilling 
to lose the opportunity of seeing and conversing 
with the celebrated professor. Accordingly they re- 
paired to the university library ; but, as might be ex- 
pected at so late an hour, they found the library 
closed and the galleries silent and deserted. After 
wandering about for a considerable time, in search of 
some one to whom to address an inquiry, they at last 
saw an abate of very humble and unpretending ap- 
pearance approach. The spokesman of the party 
begged of him, in the best Latin he could summon up 
at the moment, to point out the way to the library. 

" Do you wish to see the library ?" asked the abate 
without a moment's pause, in English, and with an 
excellent accent. 

The student was thunderstruck. " By Jove, boys," 
he exclaimed turning to his companions, " this is 
Mezzofanti himself !" 

It icas Mezzofanti ; and, on learning that they 
were Irish, he addressed them a few words in their 
native language, to which they were obliged to con- 
fess their inability to reply. One of the number, 
however, having learned the language from books, 
Mezzofanti entered into a conversation with him on 
its supposed analogies with Welsh. 

Of this party, five in number, four are now no 


more. The sole survivor, Reverend Philip Meyler of 
Wexford, still retains a lively recollection not only 
of the fluency and precision of Mezzofanti's English, 
but of the friendly warmth with which he received 
them, of the interest which he manifested in the ob- 
ject of their journey, and of the cordiality of the " Iter 
honum faustumque /" with which he took his leave. 
The clergyman alluded to by Lady Blessington, as 
the " Abbe Scandalaria," was, in reality, Padre 
Scandellari,* a learned priest of the congregation of 
the Scuole Pie, and one of Mezzofanti's especial friends. 
I was assured by the late Lady Bellew, who knew 
Padre Scandellari at this period, that he spoke En- 
glish quite as well as Mezzofanti. Her ladyship, (at 
that time Mademoiselle de Mendoza y Rios) was 
presented to Mezzofanti by this fiither, a few weeks 
after the visit of Lady Blessington. She was accompa- 
nied by the late Bishop Gradwell, ex-rector of the 
English College at Rome, and by her governess, Madame 
de Chaussegros,f a native of Marseilles Mezzoftmti 
conversed fluently with Dr. Gradwell in English, and 
with Mdlle. de Mendoza, who was a linguist of no 
common attainments, in English, French, and Span- 
ish ; and when he learned that her companion was a 
Marseillaise, he at once addressed her in the Pro- 
vencal dialect, which, as the delighted Marseillaise 
declared, he spoke almost with the grace and propri- 
ety of a native of Provence. 

* Padre Scandellari died in December, 1831. He is spoken of in 
terms of high praise in the Gazzetta di Bologna for Dec. 27. 

I Madame de Chaussegros was the widow of the officer by whom 
Toulon was surrendered to the English, in 1793, 


It will be remembered that the Crown Prince of 
Prussia, on his arrival at Rome, counselled Dr. Tho- 
luck not to return to Germany, without visiting the 
Bolognese prodigy. Having heard of this interview, 
which took place while Dr. Tholuck was returning to 
Germany, in 1829, I was naturally anxious to learn 
what was the impression made upon this distinguish- 
ed orientalist, by a visit which may be said to have 
been undertaken with the professed design of testing 
by a critical examination the reality of the accom- 
plishment of which fame had spoken so unreservedly. 
Dr. Tholuck, with a courtesy which I gratefully 
acknowledge, at once forwarded to me a most inter- 
esting account of his interview, a portion of which 
has been already inserted. Dr.Tholuck is known as one 
of the most eminent linguists of modern Germany. 
From the clear and idiomatic English of his letter, 
the reader may infer what are his capabilities, as a 
critical judge of the same faculty in another. After 
mentioning M. Bunsen's statement, that Mezzofanti 
had learned his languages entirely from books. Dr. 
Tholuck continues : — 

*' This seemed the more incredible to me, having just made the 
experience as to Italian, how impossible it is to acquire the nice- 
ties of conversational language only from books. On my return 
from Rome; having arrived at Bologna, I considered it my first 
duty to call on that eminent linguist, accompanied by a young 
Dane who was conversant also with the Frisian language, spoken 
only by a small remnant of that old nation in Sleswic or Friesland. 
Mezzofanti having commenced the conversation in German, I 
continued it a quarter of an hour in my native language. He 



spoke it fluently, but not without some slighter mistakes, of which, 
in that space of time, I noticed as many as four, which 1 took 
notes of immediately after ; nor was the' accent a pure German 
accent, but that of Poles and Bohemians when they speak Ger- 
man, which is to be accounted for from his having acquired that 
language from individuals of that nation, from Austrian soldiers. 
Upon this I suddenly turned my conversation into Arabic, having 
obtained an easy practice in this language by long intercourse 
with a family in which it was spoken. Mezzofanli made his reply 
in Arabic without any hesitation, quite correctly, but very slowly, 
composing one word with the other, from want of practice. I 
then turned upon Dutch, which he did not know then, but replied 
in Flemish, a kindred dialect. English and Spanish he spoke 
with the greatest fluency, but when addressed in Danish he re- 
plied in Swedish. The Frisian he had not yet heard of. When 
requested to write a line for me, he retired in his study, and, as 
we had been talking together on the Persian, which at that time 
had been my chief study, and which he was able to converse in, 
though very slowly, and composing only words, as was my own 
case likewise, he wrote for me a fine Persian distich of his own 
composition, though only after long meditation in his study. In 
the mean while he permitted me to examine his library. Turning 
up a Cornish (of the dialect of Cornwall) Grammar, I found in 
it some sheets containing a little vocabulary and grammatical 
paradigms, and he told me that his way of learning new languages 
was no other but that of our school-boys, by writing out paradigms 
and words, and committing to memory. As to the statement of 
M. Bunsen, mentioned before, it was not confirmed by Mezzo- 
fanti's communication: he confessed to have acquired the conversa- 
tional language chiefly from foreigners in the hospitals, in part 
from missionaries. The number he then professed to know well 
was upwards of twenty ; those which he knew imperfectly, almost 
the same number. Of the poetical productions of several nations 
he spoke as a man of taste, but what we call the philosophy of 
language he did not seem yet to have entered upon." 

Dr. Tholuck, it will be seen, did not suffer himself 


to be carried away by the enthusiasm of those who 
had gone before him. He had eyes for faults as 
well as for excellencies. Nevertheless, the reader 
will probal)ly agree with me in thinking the undis- 
guised admiration which pervades his calm and cir- 
cumstantial statement, even with the drawbacks which 
it contains, a more solid tribute to the fame of 
Mezzofanti than the declamatory eulogies of a crowd 
of uninquiring enthusiasts. There is an irresistible 
guarantee for his trustworthiness as a reporter upon 
Mezzofanti's German, in the fact that he did not fail 
to take "a note of the four minor mistakes," into which 
Mezzofanti fell in the course of their conversation ;* 
and one cannot hesitate to receive without suspicion 
what he tells of his " speaking Arabic and Persian 
without any hesitation, and quite correctly," when 
we find him carefully distinguish between these and 
the other languages on which he tried him, and note 
that in these he proceeded ''very slowly, composing one 
word with another for want of practice." It is proper, 
however, to add that the opportunity of practice which 
he afterwards enjoyed at Rome, entirely removed this 
difficulty: and the fluency and ease with which Mezzo- 
fanti there spoke these most difficult languages, is the 
best confirmation of Dr. Tholuck's sagacity in ascribing 

* In the hope of arriving at a still more accurate estimate of 
Mezzofanti's performance in German conversation, I wrote to re- 
quest of Dr. Thoiuck a note of the '♦ four minor mistakes" to which he 
alluded. Unfortunately the memorandum which he had made at the 
time, although he recollects to have observed it quite recently in his 
papers, has been mislaid, as has also been the Persian distich which 
Mezzofanti composed during the interview. 


the hesitation which was observable at the time of his 
visit to want of practice alone. 

Dr. Tholuck's letter is specially important, also, as 
establishing thefactthat Mezzofanti's acquisitions were 
by no means so easy, or so much the result of a species 
of instinctive intuition as has been commonly supposed. 
Many of the circumstances which Dr. Tholuck notes, 
indicate labour ; all point plainly to successive stages 
of advancement, to various degrees of perfection, in 
a word, to all the ordinary accompaniments of progress. 
The little vocabulary and grammatical paradigms of 
the Cornish language, an extinct and almost forgotten 
dialect,* which even our English philologists have 
come to disregard, tell of themselves the character of the 
man. Of course the main attraction of the Cornish dia- 
lect for him, was as one of the representatives of the 
old British family ; but it cannot be doubted that he 
took a pleasure in the systematic pursuit of the struc- 
ture of a language for the mere sake of the mental 
exercise which it involved. I am assured by the 
Cavalier Minarelli that the deceased Cardinal's books 
and papers! contain many such grammatical and 
phraseological skeletons, even in languages which 

• At the time of the Restoration, Cornish was still a living lan- 
guage, especially in the West ; but, a century later it had quite 
disappeared, its sole living representative being an old fish-women, 
Dolly Per.trath, who was still able to curse and scold in her expres- 
sive vern;icular. See Adelung, II. 152. 

j- It was in great part from these papers that Cav. Minarelli com- 
piled the list of the several languages cultivated at various times 
by Cardinal Muzzofanti, to which I shall have occasion to refer soon 


might be supposed to liave less interest than that in 
the study of which Dr. Tholuck found him engaged.* 
In reply to further inquiries which I addressed to 
him, Dr. Tholuck added : 

"Among the twenty languages which he thf>n professed to know 
accurately, he pointed out specially the English and the 
Albanese ; among these he professed to know imperfectly, 
was also the Qiiichua, or old Permian, which he learned from 
some of ihe American missionaries. He mentioned that he was 
then engaged in learning the Bimbarra language, studying it from 
a catechism translated by a Freiich missionary; an instance which 
shows that his knowing a language was in some instances no- 
thing more than having got a smattering of it, as the Americans 

• There is another circumstance of Dr. Tholuck's narrative which 
it is not easy to reconcile with the account already cited (p. 239,) 
from M.Molbech'aTravels; — namely,that "when addressed in Danish 
he replied in Swedish," since the former was the only language in 
which, during an interview of about two hours, Mezzofanti conversed 
with M- Molbech. In order to remove all uncertainty as to this 
point, I have had inquiry of M. Molbech in person, through the kind 
offices of the Rev. Dr. Griiner,a learned German Missionary resident 
at Copenhagen, who himself knew- Cardinal Mezzofanti, and whose 
testimony to the purity and fluency of his Eminence's German con- 
versation I may add to the many already known. M. Molbech re- 
iterates and confirms all the statements made by him in his 'Travels.' 
He has even taken the trouble to forward a note in his own hand- 
writing, referring to the page in the Transactions of the Philological 
Society, which contains M. \\''atts's translation from his book. He 
adds, that when in 184 7> his son waited upon the Cardinal in Rome, 
for the purpose of presenting him some of M. Molbech'-^ works, he 
found his Eminence's recollection of the interview perfectly fresh and 
accurate as to all its details. 

f The reader will scarcely agree with this observation of Dr. Tho- 
luck. The Quichua was one of the languages which, as the Dr. tes- 
tifies, Mezzofanti only professed to know imperfectly. It must be 
remembered too, that, during his early years he had many and pro- 


As to the Persian distich, which it took hiin about half an hour 
to compose, it was an imitation of the distichs in Sadi's Gulistan* 
and contained, as is the case with these distichs, some elegant 

Whether, at any subsequent time, he acquired 
the Frisian dialect, of which " he had not yet heard" 
when Dr. Tholuck visited him, I am unable to pro- 
nounce from any positive information. But I find in 
his catalogue f several volumes in this language (to 
which it is highly probable that this interview called 
his attention ;) not merely elementary books, such as 
^di^Qik!sFriescheSpraa]deer^\)\it historical works, as for 
instance, Wissers' History, and even such light litera- 
ture as Japiek's Collection of Frisian Poetry. % From 
his known habits I can hardly doubt that, once having 
acquired these books, he must at least have made 
some progress towards mastering their contents. 

The abate Ubaldo Fabiani, a young Modenese priest 
of much promise, who, after completing his studies, 
had been appointed lecturer in sacred Scripture and 
Hebrew in his native university, came to Bologna 
in 1829, with letters from the abate Cavedoni to 
Mezzofanti, under whom he proposed to per- 
fect himself in Hebrew and other Oriental Ian- 

longed opportunities of intercourse with Father Escobar and other 
South American Jesuit missionaries, who had settled at Bologna, 
and from whom he may have acquired the language, much more 
solidly than he could be supposed to learn it from a few casual inter- 
views such as Dr. Tholuck most probably contemplated. 

* The Gulistan is found in the Cardinal's catalogue, p. 109. 

^ p. 26, Oddly enough they are classed among the Bohemian books. 

XFriesche Bymlerije. It is mentioned by Adelung, II. p. 237. 


guages. Mezzofanti received him with the utmost 
cordiality ; and the great ability and industry which he 
exhibited, as well as his exceeding amiableness and un- 
affected piety, completely won the heart of his master. 
On his return to Modena, after a residence of a few 
months, Mezzofanti wrote to his friend Cavedoni. 

Bologna, 17 October, 1829. 

" Don Ubaldo Fabiani is just about to return to Modena, after 
a sojourn of three months here, the entire of which he has passed 
in the midst of books. It would be impossible for me to describe 
to you the assiduity, avidity, and perseverance, with which I have 
seen him apply to his studies ; but I can safely say that the fruit 
which he has derived from them has even exceeded the labour, 
as he unites with unwearied diligence a ready wit and a peculiar 
aptitude for this branch of learning. The principal object of his 
attention has been the sacred Hebrew text; but he has also ap- 
plied himself to Chaldee, and in the end to the Rabiuical 
Hebrew — in all cases with most rapid progress. Had his time not 
been bo limited, he had intended to devote himself also to Arabic 
— a language which has of late become so necessary an appliance 
of the polemics of sacred Scripture. But I have every confidence 
that he will do this also, when he shall return anotheryear to Bo- 
logna ; and I shall be more than willing to accompany him in 
this study also. 

I am much indebted to you for having given me an opportu- 
nity of forming the acquaintance of so worthy an ecclesiastic. I 
have to thank you also for your learned publications, which you 
were kind enough to send me, and which, in the midst of all my 
varied occupations, are a source of real pleasure to me. For- 
give my irregularity and tardiness as a correspondent ; or rather 
do you return good for evil, by writing to me the more frequently. 
You will thus do what is most grateful to your devoted friend." 

Fabiani had hardly reached Modena when he was 
seized with fever — the terrible perniciosa of the Ita- 
lian summer and autumn — and was carried off after 


an illness of a few days, at the early age of twenty- 
four. As soon as the melancholy news reached Bo- 
logna, Mezzofanti wrote once more to his friend 

Bologna, November 12, 1829. 

" Death has snatched Don Ubaldo from us ! Alas, how much 
have we lost in him ! — how miserahly have we seen all the hopes 
which we jilaced in him, cut off in a single moment ! What 
might we not have expected from a young ecclesiastic, so entirely 
devoted to piety and to letters ! 

As for himself, his only aspirations were for heaven. His stu- 
dies had no other end or aim, save God : and God has been 
pleased to take him to Himself, crowning with an early reward 
a virtue which, even in the first flower of years, had attained to 
its fall maturity. Ah, let us hope that our dear Don Ubaldo* 
now close to the Divine Fountain, is there admitted to the 
hidden source of the divine oracles, to the study of which he ad- 
dressed himself here with such indefatigable application. Now 
he will recall to memory, the aflectionate care bestowed upon 
him here by his parents, by his dear Don Celestino, and even 
by his last master— last in merit as well as in time — and will feel 
the force of the words which I often repeated to him, never with 
more tenderness than at our last parting — ' Ah, Don Ubaldo, 
give thyself entirely to the Lord!' He feels now, I confidently 
trust, what a thing it is to • belong entirely to the Lord.' 

Ah, my dear Don Celestino, I should not be acting worthily, 
if, on such an event, I gave room for a single moment to earthly 
thoughts. Our friend has flown to heaven : — let our hearts also 
turn thither, where we hope to meet him in everlasting joy. As- 
sist me by your prayers to attain this end. When you see our 
deceased friend's parents, comfort them with the true and blessed 
consolations which our holy religion bestows ; and let us when, in 
the Adorable Sacrifice, we offer prayers for those who are in tri- 
bulation, never fail to pray for each other, and continally strive to 
disentangle ourselves more and more from the vanity of the world." 


The premature death of this excellent young cler- 
gyman was felt at Modena as a real calamity. His 
friend, the abate Cavedoni, published these simple 
but touching letters of Mezzofanti in the Mernorie * 
of Modena, as the best testimony which could be 
offered to the rare merit of the deceased ; but, 
although already known in Italy, they are well wor- 
thy of being preserved, not merely as a tribute to 
the memory of the youth whose death they record, 
but as representing most truthfully the piety, the 
sensibility, the fervour, and above all, the amiable 
and affectionate disposition, of the writer himself. 

Soon after the date of these letters was founded at 
Bologna a literary Academy, which has some inter- 
est in connexion with the history of Mezzofanti. 
Like many of the older learned societies of Italy,f it 
took to itself a somewhat fanciful designation, 
although one which falls far short in oddity of those 
of many among its predecessors; — as the OziosU orthe 
Inquieti, of Bologna, the Insensati of Perugia, the 
Assorditi of Urbino, or (strangest of all), the Umi- 
diX of Florence, who carried the fancy so far as to 
designate themselves by the names of fish and water- 
fowls. Mezzofanti and his fellow Academicians content- 
ed themselves with the less startling, though somewhat 

• Vol. xvi., p. 229-30. 

t See a very curious chapter in Tiraboschi, voL vii., p. 139-201 ; 
which Disraeli has, as usual, turned freely to his own account in the 
Curiosities of Literature, p. 348-54. 

X This is the origin of the noin-de. guerre. La Lasca— (Me Roach,) 
by which the too notorious novelist, Grazzini, chose to designate 
himself as member of this society. 



aflfected, title of Filopieri, " Lovers of the Muses." 
Their Society received the formal approval of the 
Congregation of Studies, in the beginning of 1830, 
and commenced to hold its meetings in the same 
year. But, in connexion with the life of Mezzofanti, 
it is chiefly memorable for a curious volume of verses, 
addressed to him by the members, on the occasion 
of his elevation to the Cardinalate.* 

* All' Emo Signer Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, Applausi del 
Filopieri, 8vo. Bologna, 1838. 



Hitherto the Abate Mezzofanti has appeared chiefly, 
if not exclusively, as a linguist ; and the estimate of 
his attainments which has long been current, assumes 
him to have cultivated that single accomplishment to 
the exclusion of all other branches of study. The 
report, however, of a visitor, who saw him about the 
time at which we have now arrived, will be found to 
present him in a new character. 

In introducingthis notice of him, a brief preliminary 
explanation will be necessary — perhaps, indeed, this 
explanation is indispensable even in itself; for, 
although the political history of the period does not 
properly fall within the scope of this biography, 
yet, as the most important event in the life of 
Mezzofanti — the transfer of his residence to Rome — 
arose directly out of his mission to that capital at 
the termination of the Revolution of 1831, it is 
necessary to revert, at least in outline, to the most 
notable occurrences of the preceding years. 


The discontent and turbulence which marked the 
closing years of the reign of Pius VII. had in great 
measure subsided under the impartial but vigorous 
administration of Leo XII ; nor was the short 
pontificate of his successor, Pius VIII. who succeeded 
on the 31st of March, 1829, interrupted by any 
overt expression of popular discontent. It was well 
known, nevertheless, throughout this whole period, 
that an active secret organization was in existence, 
not alone in the Papal States, but in Naples, in the 
Lombardo-Venetian kingdom, in the minor principali- 
ties of Parma, Piacenza, and Modena, and indeed 
throughout the entire of Italy. Everywhere through- 
out Italy, too, in addition to these secret associa- 
tions, still subsisted a remnant of the old French or 
Franco- Italian party, who, while they submitted to 
the existing state of things, and offered no resistance 
to the established regime, concealing their discontent, 
and cautiously repressing their aspirations after the 
cherished vision of a "united and independent Italy," 
yet were notoriously dissatisfied with the domestic 
governments, and lost no opportunity of embarrass- 
ing their administration. Of this, in the Papal 
States, Bologna had long been the centre. 

The Abate Mezzoftmti had never taken any part 
in political affairs ; but his principles were well 
known, and his antecedents had long marked hin^ out 
as an ardent and devoted adherent of the Papal rule. 
Personally inoffensive and amiable as he was, there- 
fore, he was, on these grounds, distasteful to certain 
members of the anti-papal party. But by the great 


body of his fellow-citizens he was regarded as a 
man of thoroughly honourable principles ; and we 
shall see that in a crisis of great delicacy and im- 
portance he was selected as one of their delegates 
to the court of Gregory XVI. 

It is to these political animosities that allusion is 
made in the following extremely interesting account 
of Mezzofanti. It is from the pen of the distin- 
guished historian of the mathematical sciences in 
Italy, M. Libri ; whose name is in itself sufficient to 
stamp with authority any statement bearing upon a 
subject in which he has proved himself a master. 

For this most interesting communication I am 
indebted to the good offices of Mr. AVatts, to whom it 
was addressed byM.Libri, in reply to an inquiry kindly 
made on my behalf by that gentleman. M. Libri's 
letter is in English, and the purity of its language 
and elegance of its style are in themselves no slight 
evidence of his competence to pronounce upon 
^lezzofanti's accomplishments as a linguist, no less 
than as a mathematician. 

M. Libri's meeting with Mezzofanti occurred at 
Bologna early in 1830, in the course of a literary 
tour in which M. Libri was then engaged. 

•'Among all these eminent men, the one that interested me 
most was unquestionably the Abbe, (afterwards Cardinal) Mezzo- 
fanti, who was then librarian at Bologna, and respecting whose 
astonishing power in languages I had heard the most extraordin- 
ary anecdotes. During a short excursion which I had previouslv 
made to Bologna, I had already got a glimpse of that celebrated 
man ; but it was not until 1830 that I could be said to have 


seen him. I was presented lo him by one of my friends, Count 
Bianchetti, and I was received by him with great kindness. He 
made me promise to go and see him again, and offered to show 
me the library. I accepted his offer eagerly ; but it was jjrinci- 
pally in the hope of having a long conversation with him that I 
I'epaired to the library next day. 

Before going farther, I ought to say that I approached him with 
mixed feelings. Personally, I have always been disposed to 
respect and admire every man who possesses an incontestible 
superiority in any branch of human knowledge ; and in this 
point of view, M. Mezzofanti, whom every body acknowledges 
to be the man who knew and could speak more languages than 
any other living man, had certainly a right to boundless admira- 
tion on my part. It was popularly reported at Bologna, 
that M. Mezzofanti, then fifty years old, knew as many lan- 
guages as he counted years ; and I had heard related in respect 
to him, by men in whose veracity I have full confidence, so 
many extraordinary histories, that he became in my eyes a sort 
of hero of legend or romance ; but a hero of flesh and blood, 
who realized or even surpassed all the wonders attributed to 
Mithridates as a linguist. On the other hand, the liberal 
party, who certainly had no sympathies with the Abbe Mezzo- 
fanti, spread reports against him, by no means flattering ; among 
which the one that had most frequently reached my ears, consist- 
ed in its being ceaselessly repeated, that the celebrated librarian 
at Bologna was a sort of parrot, endowed with the faculty of 
articulating sounds which he had heard, that he was only a 
miracle of memory, understanding having nothing to do with it; 
and that, independently of this trick of getting words by heart, 
this extraordinary man possessed no solid information, and little 
philological erudition. Without blindly adopting this bare asser- 
tion, I must acknowledge that the judgment passed on Mezzo- 
fanti by persons of some consideration, had made an impression 
upon my mind, far from being favourable to him : but that 
impression was soon dissipated in the course of the interview 
I had with him. Before leaving Florence, I had just read and 


carefully studied the treatise on Indefinite Algebra, composed 
several ages before by Brahmegupta, and which, translated and 
enriched with an admirable introduction by Colebroke, had been 
published in London, in 1817.* Being still filled with admira- 
tion for the labours of the ancient Hindoos on indeterminate 
analysis, I mentioned the book casually to Mezzofanti, and 
merely to show him that even a man almost exclusively devoted to 
the study of mathematics, might take a lively interest in the labours 
of the Orientalists. I had no intention of introducing a scientific 
conversation on this subject with the celebrated librarian ; and I 
must even add, that I thought him quite incapable of engaging 
in one. How great then was my surprise, when I saw him imme- 
diately seize the opportunity, and speak to me during half an 
hour on the astronomy and mathematics of the Indian races, in 
a way which would have done honour to a man whose chief occu- 
pation had been tracing the history of the sciences. Deeply 
astonished at so specific a knowledge, which had taken me quite 
unexpectedly, I eagerly sought explanation from him on points 
which had seemed to me the most diflScult in the history of 
India; such, for instance, as the probable epoch when certain 
Indian astronomers had lived, before the Mahometan conquest, 
and how far those astronomers might have been able, directly or 
indirectly, to borrow from the Greeks. On all those points 
Mezzofanti answered on the spot, with great modesty, and as a 
man who knows how to doubt ; but proving to me at the same 
time, that those were questions on which his mind had already- 
paused, and which he had approached with all the necessary 

• Algebra, with Arithraetic and Mensuration; from the Sanscrit 
of Brahmegupta and Bhascara. Translated by H. T. Colebroke, 
London, 1817. The Bija Gannita had already been published by Mr. 
Strachey in 1813. In referring to these Hindoo treatises on Mathe- 
matics, I may add, that an interesting account of the Hindoo Logic, 
contributed by Professor Max Miiller, is appended to Mr. Tliomp- 
son's " Outline of the Laws of Thought," (pp. 369-89,^ London, 
1853. The analogies of all these treatises with the works of the 
Western writers on the same sciences, are exceedingly curious and 


accomplishment of the accessory sciences. I cannot express how 
much that conversation interested me ; and I did not delay to 
testify to Mezzofanti all the admiration wliich knowledge 
at once so varied and so profound, had excited in me. No more 
was said of visiting the library, or of seeing books. I had 
before me a most extraordinary living book, and one well calcu- 
lated to confound the imagination. Encouraged by his courtesy and 
modesty, I could not resist my desire of putting questions to 
him on the mode which he had employed in making himself 
master of so many languages. He positively assured me, but 
without entering into any detail, that it was a thing less difficult 
than was generally thought ; that there is in all languages a 
limited number of points to which it is necessary to pay particu- 
lar attention ; and that, when one is once master of those points, 
the remainder follows with great facility. He added, that, when 
one has learned ten or a dozen languages essentially different 
from one another, one may, with a little study and attention, 
learn any number of them. I strenuously urged him to publish 
his experience on the subject and on the result of his labours ; 
but I observed in him a great aversion to the publication of his 
researches. He affirmed that the more we study, the more do 
we understand how difficult it is to avoid falling into errors ; 
and. in speaking to me of several writings which he had com- 
posed, he told me that they were only essays which by no 
means deserved to see the light. In the midst of the conversa- 
tion, as I was still urging him, he rose and went to look in a 
box for a manuscript with coloured designs, which he showed 
me, and which had for its object the explanation of the Mexican 
hieroglyphics. Having begged him to publish at least that work, he 
told me that it was only an essay, still imperfect, and that his 
intention was to recast it completely. 

This excursion to America suggested to nie the idea of put- 
ting a new (piestion to him. I had collected at Florence, par- 
ticularly with relation to bibliography, several translations of the 
whole Bible, or certain portions of the sacred books, in different 
foreign languages. Some of these translations were into languages 
spoken by North American savages ; and in looking through 


them 1 liad been struck with the uicasiireless length* of most of 
the words of these tongues. Since the opportunity presented 
itsell naturally, I asked M. Mezzofanti what he thought of those 
words, and whether the men who spoke languages apparently so 
calculated to put one out of breath, did not seem to be endowed with 
peculiar organs. Immediately taking down a book written in one of 
those languages, the celebrated linguist showed me practically how, 
in his opinion, the savages managed to pronounce these interminable 
words, without too much trouble. For fear of making mistakes, 
I cannot venture, after twenty -five years, to reproduce this expla- 
nation from memory. According to my usual practice, I had 
written out, on my return home, the conversation which I had 
just had with the celebrated linguist, and if I still possessed that 
part of my journal, you would find there almost the exact words 
of the Abbe Mezzofanti ; but those jiapers having been taken 
away Irom me by people who, under a pretext as ridiculous as 
odious, despoiled me, after the revolution of 1848, of all that 1 
possessed at Paris, I must confine myself to mentioning the fact 
of the explanation which was given to me, without being able to 
tell you in what that explanation consisted. 

After what I have just recounted to you, I could add nothing 
to express to you the opinion which that long conversation with 
M. Mezzofanti (which during the few days that I passed at Bologna 
was followed by some other interviews much shorter, and as it 
were fugitive,) left in my mind on the subject of the erudition, as 
profound as it was various, of that universal linguist. As, however, 
I express here an opinion which certainly was not that of every- 

• Some curious and interesting remarks on the peculiarity of the 
Indian languages here mentioned by M. Libri, will be found in Du 
Ponceau's " Memoire sur le Systeme Graraniaticale des Langues In- 
diennes," pp. 143, and foil. Some words in the Chippewa language 
contain thirteen or fourteen .syllables ; but they should be called 
phrases rather than words. M. Du Ponceau gives an example 
from the language of thfi Indians of Massachusetts — the word 
wutappeiittukqulfsunnuhwnhtunhqnoh, '■^ genuflecting !" p. 143. The 
same characteristic is found in the Mexican and Central American 
languages. In Mexican " a parish-priest " is " notlazomanilzteopitz- 
katatzins !" 



body, permit me to (orroburate that oijiuion by tiie testimony of 
Gioidaiii,a man not only celebrated in Italy for the admirable purity 
of his style, but who also enjoyed deserved reputation as a pro- 
found Grecian, and a consummate Latin scholar. The testimony 
of Giordani on the subject of the Abbe Mezzofanti is the more 
remarkable, because, besides Giordani's having (as is generally 
known) a marked antipathy for the ullra-caiholic party to which 
Mezzofanti was thought to belong, he and the Abbe had had 
some little personal quarrels (he remembrance of which was not 
effaced. Notwithstanding this, I read in the letters of Giordani 
lately published at Milan, that, in his opinion, Mezzofanti was 
quite asupsrior man." 

M Libri* proceeds to cite several passages from 
Giordani's letters, which, as 1 have already quoted 
them in their proper place, it is needless to repeat 
here. Indeed no additional testimony could add 
Aveight to his own authority on any of the subjects 
to which he refers in this most interesting letter. 

Soon after this interview, the quiet of Mezzofanti's 
life was interrupted for a time. The Revolution of 
Paris in July, 1830, and the events in Belgium 
and Poland by which it was rapidly followed, 
were not slow to provoke a response in Italy. 
The long repressed hopes of the republican party were 
thus suddenly realised, and the organization of the se- 
cret societies became at once more active and more ex- 
tended. For a time the prudent and moderate policy 

* While M. Libri was writing this letter, he learned that Count 
Pepoli was in possession of a short autobiographical sketch of Mezzo- 
fanti. The count subsequently was good enough to permit me to in- 
spect this fragment ; but 1 was mortified to find that it was not by 
the Cardinal himself, but by some member of his family. It is very 
short, and contains no fact which 1 had not previously known. 


adopted by Pius VIII. in reference to the events 
in France, had the effect of defeating the mea- 
sures of the Italian revolutionists ; but his death on 
the thirtieth of November in that year, appeared to 
aff'ord a favourable opportunity for their attempt. 
During the conclave for the election of his succes- 
sor, all the preparations were made. The stroke was 
sudden and rapid. The very day after the election 
of Gregory XVL, but before the news had been 
transmitted from Kome, an outbreak took place 
at Modena. It was followed, on the next day, 
by a similar proceeding at Bologna, — by the call- 
ing out of a national guard, and the proclamation 
of a provisional government. The Papal delegate 
was expelled from Bologna. The Duke of Modena fled 
to Mantua. Maria Louisa, Duchess of Parma, 
took refuge in France. And on the 26th of the same 
month, deputies from all the revolted states, by a joint 
instrument, proclaimed the United Republic of Italy ! 

This success, however, was as short-lived as it had 
been rapid. The duke of Modena was reinstated by 
the arms of Austria on the 9th of March. Order was 
restored about the same date at Parma : and, before 
the end of the month of ]\Iarch, all traces of the re- 
volutionary movement had for the time disappeared 
throughout the States of the Church.* 

It has been customary for the cities and communi 
of the Pupal States on the accession of each new Pon- 

• See the series of the Gazzetta di B,logna ; see also Spaldiny's 
" Italy and the Italian Islands," for a compendious but accurate 
summary of the facts. 


tiff, to send a deputation of their most notable citi- 
zens to offer their homage and present their congra- 
tulations at the foot of the throne. Many of the 
chief cities had already complied with the established 
usage.* Bologna, restored to a calmer mind, now 
hastened to follow the example. Three delegates were 
deputed for the purpose — the Marchese Zambeccari, 
Count Lewis Isolani, and the abate Mezzofanti. They 
arrived in Rome in the beginning of May,t and o.n the 
9th of the same month, were admitted to an audience 
of the Pope, who received them with great kindness, 
and inquired anxiously into the condition of Bologna, 
and the grievances which had given occasion to the 
recent discontents. 

To Mezzofanti in particular the Pope showed 
marked attention. It had been one of his requests 
to Cardinal Opizzoni, the archbishop, when returning 
to Bologna on the suppression of the Revolution, that 
he should send Professor Mezzofanti to visit him. 
He still remembered the disinterestedness which the 
professor had shewn in their first correspondence ; and 
the time had now come when it was in his power to 
make some acknowledgment. A few days after Mezzo- 
fanti's arrival he was named domestic prelate and 
proto-notary apostolic, and at his final audience be- 
fore returning to Bologna, the pope renewed in per- 
son the invitation to settle permanently in Rome, 
which had formerly been made to him by Cardinal 

♦ See the official announcements in the Diariu di Roma in March 
and ApriL 

f Diariu di Roma, May 9, 1831. 


Consalvi on the part of Pius VII. Mezzofanti was 
still as happy in his humble position as he had heen 
in 1815. He still retained his early love for his na- 
tive city and for the friends among whom he had now 
begun to grow old. But to persist farther would be 
ungracious. He could no longer be insensible to a 
wish so flattering and so earnestly enforced. It was 
not, however, until, as the Pope himself declared, 
"after a long siege," ( veraviente un assedio ) that he 
finally acquiesced ; — overpowered, as it would seem, by 
that genuine and unaifected cordiality Avhich was the 
great characteristic of the good Pope Gregory XVI. 

" Holy Father," was his singularly graceful ac- 
knowledgment of the kind interest which the Pope 
had manifested in his regard, " people say that I 
can speak a great many languages. In no one of 
them, nor in them all, can I find words to express 
how deeply I feel this mark of your Holiness's regard. " 

It is hardly necessary to say that one of the very first 
visits which he paid in Pome, was to the Propaganda. 
On the morning after his arrival, the feast, 
as it would seem, of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 
he went to the sacristy with the intention of saying 
mass ; and having, with his habitual retiringness, knelt 
down to say the usual preparatory prayers without 
making himself known, he remained for a considerable 
time unobserved and therefore neglected. He was 
at length recognised by Dr. Cullen, the present arch- 
bishop of Dublin, Tat that time professor of Scripture 
in the Propaganda,) who at once procured for the dis- 
tinguished stranger the attention which he justly 


deserved in such an institution. It is a pleasing il- 
lustration^ at once of the retentiveness of his memory 
and of the simple kindliness of his disposition, that 
in an interview with Dr. Cuilen not very long before 
his death, he reminded him of this circumstance, and 
renewed his thanks even for so trifling a service. 
After mass, he made his way, unattended, to one of 
the earner ate ^ or corridors. The first room which he 
chanced to meet was that of a Turkish student, named 
Hassun, now archbishop of the United Grreek Church 
at Constantinople. He at once entered into conver- 
sation with Hassun in Turkish. This he speedily 
changed to Romaic with a youth named Musabini, 
who is now the Catholic Greek bishop at Smyrna. 
From Greek he turned to English, on the approach 
of Dr. O'Connor, an Irish student, now bishop of Pitts- 
burgh in the United States. As the unwonted sounds 
began to attract attention, the students poured in, 
one by one, each in succession to find himself greeted 
in his native tongue ; till at length, the bell 
being rung, the entire community assembled, and 
gave full scope to the wonderful quickness and varie- 
ty of his accomplishment. - Dr. O'Connor describes 
it as the most extraordinary scene he has ever wit- 
nessed ; and he adds a further yqyj remarkable cir- 
cumstance that, during the many new visits which 
Mezzofanti paid to the Propaganda afterwards, he 
never once forgot the language of any student with 
whom he had spoken on this occasion, nor once 
failed to address him in his native tongue. 

The deputation returned to Bologna in the end of 


June. Mezzofanti accompanied it, but only for the 
purpose of making arrangements for his permanent 
change of residence. 

He had accepted the commission with exceeding 
reluctance, and it is painful to have to record that on 
this, the only occasion on which he consented to leave 
his habitual retirement, he was not suffered to escape 
his share of the rude shocks and buffets which seem 
to be inseparable from public life. 

All who were^ most familiar with Mezzofanti, to 
whatever party in Italian politics they belonged, have 
borne testimony to the sincerity of his convictions and 
the entire disinterestedness of his views — a disinter- 
estedness which had marked the entire tenor of his 
life, and had been attested by long and painful 
sacrifices. Nevertheless, on the return of the 
Bolognese deputation from Eome, he had the 
mortification to find his conduct misrepresented and 
his motives maligned. The marked attention which 
he had experienced at the hands of the Pope, was 
made a crime. His simple and long-tried loyalty — 
the spontaneous homage which a mind such as his 
renders almost by instinct — was denounced as the in- 
terested subserviency of a courtier ; and the favours 
•which had been bestowed on him in Eome, were re- 
presented as the price of his treason to Bologna. 

Mezzofanti felt deeply these ungenerous and un- 
founded criticisms. His health was seriously affected 
by the chagrin which they occasioned ; and these 
memories of his last days in Bologna often clouded 
in after years the happier reminiscences of his native 
city on v;hich his mind delighted to dwell. 


Owing to the unsettled condition of Italy during this 
year, but fewEnglishmen visited Bologna. Among these 
were Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, Canon of West- 
minster(who also saw Mezzofanti in the following year 
in Eome,) and Mr. Milnes, of Frystonc Hall, York- 
shire, father of the poet, Mr. Kichard Monckton 
Milnes. The latter was much amused by Mezzofanti's 
proposing, when he heard he was a Yorkshire man, to 
speak Welsh with him, " as Yorkshire lay so near 
Wales r 

It would hardly be worth while to note this amu- 
sing blunder in English topography, (a blunder more 
remarkable in Mezzofanti, as in all geographical 
details he was ordinarily extremely accurate,) were it 
not that it is another testimony on the disputed 
question of his acquaintance with the Welsh language. 

He left Bologna finally for Rome in October, 1831. 
The Pope afterwards used jokingly to say, that " the 
acquisition of Mezzofanti for Rome was the only good 
that came of the Revolution of Bologna in 1831." 
By the kind care of the Pope, he was provided with 
apartments in the Quirinal Palace, nearly opposite 
the Church of Saint Andrew — the same apartments 
at the window of which the lamented Monsignor 
Palma was shot during the late Revolution. 



It is one of Rochefoucauld's maxims, that " in 
order to establish a great reputation, it is not 
enough for one to possess great qualities, he must 
also economize them.'* If Mezzofanti had desired to 
act upon this prudent principle, he could not possibly 
have chosen a worse position than Rome. 

From the very moment of his arrival there, his gift 
of language was daily, and almost hourly, exposed to 
an ordeal at once more varied and more severe 
than it would have encountered in any other city in 
the world. Without taking into account the many 
eminent linguists, native and foreign, for whom Rome 
has ever been celebrated ; without reckoning the 
varying periodical influx of sight-seers, from every 
country in Europe, who are attracted to that city by 
the unrivalled splendour of her sacred ceremonial, and 
the more constant, though less noisy, stream of pil- 
grims from the remotest lands, who are drawn by duty, 
by devotion, or by ecclesiastical affairs, to the great 


centre of Catholic unity ; — the permanent population 
of the Eternal City will be found to comprise a var- 
iety of races and tongues, such as would be sought in 
vain in any other region of the earth. From a very 
early period, the pious liberality, sometimes of the 
popes, sometimes of the natives of the various coun- 
tries themselves, began to found colleges for the edu- 
cation, under the very shadow of the chair of Peter, 
of at least a select few among the clergy of each 
people ; and, notwithstanding the confiscations of 
later times, there are few among the more prominent 
nationalities which do not even still possess in Rome, 
either a special national establishment, or, at least, a 
special foundation for national purposes in some of 
the many general establishments of the city. In like 
manner, most of the great religious orders, both of 
the East and of the West, possess separate houses 
for each of the countries in which they are es- 
tablished; and few, even of the most superficial visitors 
of Rome, can have failed to observe, among the ani- 
mated groups which throng the Pincian Hill or the 
Strada Pia, at the approach of the Ave Maria, the 
striking variety of picturesque costumes by which 
these national orders are distinguished. Each, again, 
of the several rites in communion with the Holy 
See — the Greek, the Syrian, the Copt'c, the Armen- 
ian — has, for the most part, an archbishop or bishop 
resident at Rome, to afibrd information or counsel on 
afiairs connected with its national usages, and to 
take a part in all the solemn ceremonials, as a living 
witness of the universality of the Church. 


But before all, and more than all, is the great 
Urban College — the college of the Propaganda — 
which unites in itself all the nationalities already 
described, together with many others of which no 
type is found elsewhere in Europe. Every variety 
of language and dialect throughout the wide range 
of western Christendom ; — every eastern form of 

From silken Sainarcand to cedared Lebanon ; 

many of the half explored languages of the north- 
ern and southern continents of America ; and more 
than one of the rude jargons of north and north- 
eastern Africa, may be found habitually domiciled 
within its walls. Iii the year 1837, when Dr. Wap, 
a Dutch traveller, who has written well and learnedlv 
on Eome, visited the establishment, the hundred and 
fourteen students who appeared upon its register, 
comprised no less than forty-one distinct national- 

Amid the vast variety of speech with which he 
was thus brought habitually into contact, Mezzofanti, 
even if he had desired to "economize" his reputed 
gifts, could not possibly have done so without pro- 
voking a suspicion of their questionableness, or at 
least of their superficial character. Nor, on the other 
hand, would he have ventured to expose the undenia- 
•ble reputation which he had already established, 
although upon a provincial theatre, to the ordeal 
which awaited him in the great centre of languages, 
living or dead, had be not been supported by the con- 

• Mijne Reis naar Rome in bet voorjaar van 1837. If. p. 33. 


sciousness of the reality of his attainments, as well 
as attracted by the very prospect of increased facili- 
ties for pursuing and extending the researches which 
had been the business and the enjoyment of his life. 
At all events, we shall see that from the first 
moment of his establishment in Rome, so far from 
having " economized " his extraordinary faculty of 
language, he was most assiduous, and in truth pro- 
digal, in its exercise. 

Immediately on his arrival ha was appointed canon 
of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. This, 
however, was but an earnest of the intentions of the 
Pope, who, from the first, destined him for the highest 
honours of the Roman Church. It is clear, never- 
theless, from his correspondence, that his affections 
still clung to his beloved Bologna. On occasion of his 
first new year in his new residence, he received 
many letters from his old friends, conveying to him 
the ordinary new year's greetings. From his reply 
to one of these letters which was addressed to him 
by a friend, Signor Michele Ferrucci, professor of Elo- 
quence in the university, we may gather how warm 
and cordial were the attachments which he had left 

Romp., Jajiuary 4, 1852. 
" The new-year greetings which, for so many years, I used to 
receive from you in person, were always most grateful to me» 
because I knew them to be the genuine expression of your affec- 
tion for me. In like manner the kind wishes conveyed in your 
letter are no less acceptable, since they show me that separa- 
tion has not diminished your regard. I shall always retain a 
lively sense of it; and wherever I may be, it shall be m\ endeavour 


to give proofs by my conduct that I am not insensible 
to it. Let one of these be the assurance of my most zealous 
exertions to secure for you the cliange of position which you are 
seeking, from the chair of eloquence to that of assistant professor 
of archaeology. I think it advisable that means should be taken 
to make known here the wishes of the professor himself, ihe 
Canonico Schiassi ; and it is indispensable that ihe measure should 
not only originate with his eminence the arch -chancellor, but 
should have his must earnest support. So far as I am concerned, 
I shall leave nothing undone that may tend to fuither your 

I was deeply affected in reading your wife's sonnets on the 
death of her sister and her father. May God grant that, this 
great affliction past, a heart so full of tenderness as hers, may 
meet nothing in life but joy and consolation in the continued 
prosperity of her dear family ! Present my respects to her, and 
make my compliments to my old associates in the library. I 
never for a single day forget that happy spot, and 1 seldom cease 
to speak of it. 

If there be any matter in which I can be of use to you, I beg of 
von not to spare me." 

One of Mezzofanti's first impulses on his being 
established inliome,was to turn to account, as a means 
of extending his store of languages, the mani- 
fold advantages of his new position. On a careful 
survey of the rich and varied resources supplied by 
the foreign ecclesiastical establishments of Rome, 
and especially by the great treusure-hoiise of the Pro- 
paganda, he found that there was one language, and 
that a language to which he had long and anxiously 
looked forward — the Chinese — which was, as yet, 
entirely unrepresented ; the native students destined 
for the mission of China, being at that time exclu- 
sively educated in the Chinese College at Naples. It 


happened most opportunely that at this time Monsig- 
iior de Bossi, (afterwards administrator Apostolic of 
Nankin), was about to visit that institution, and pro- 
posed to Mezzofanti to accompany him ; — a proposal 
\vhiGh, as tilling up agreeably the interval of rest 
which he enjoyed before entering upon the routine of 
the duties which awaited him, he gladly accepted. 

The Chinese College of Naples was founded in 
1725, by the celebrated Father Matthew Ripa,* with 
the permission of the reigning Pope Benedict XIII, 
and was formally approved by a bull of Clement 
XIII, April 5, 1732. f In the earlier and more 
favoured days of the Chinese mission, although it 
was chiefly supplied by European clergy, yet the mis- 
sionaries freely opened, not alone elementary schools, 
but seminaries for the training of native catechists 
who assisted in the work of the mission, even within 
the precincts of the Imperial City. But the unhappy 
divisions among the missionaries upon the well-known 
question, as to the lawfulness of the so-called "Chinese 
ceremonies ;" and the severe enactments which fol- 
lowed the final and decisive condemnation of these 
ceremonies by Clement XI., not only cut off all hope 
of this domestic supply of catechists, but effect- 
ually excluded all European missionaries from 
the Chinese Empire. The only hope, therefore, of sus- 
taining the raissioji was to provide a supply of native 

• The Memoirs of Father Ripa have enjoyed great popularitj' in 
the abridged form in which they are published in Murray's Home 
and Colonial Library. This abridgment, however, gives but little 
idea of the work itself. 

t This Bull is in the Bnllarium of the Propaganda. 


clergy, who might pass unnoticed among the popula- 
tion, or who would at least possess one chance of 
security against detection, which the very appearance 
of a foreigner would preclude. With this view. 
Father Eipa brought together at Pekin a small num- 
ber of youths, whom he hoped to train up under a 
native master, engaged by him for the purpose. A 
short experience of this plan, however, convinced him, 
not merely of its danger, but even of its absolute 
impracticability ; and he saw that the only hope of 
success for such an institution would be, not only 
to place the establishment beyond the reach of perse- 
cution from the Chinese authorities, but, (as the great 
Pope Innocent III. had contemplated a college at 
Paris for native Greek youths),* even to withdraw 
the candidates altogether for a time from the conta- 
gion of domestic influences and domestic associations. 
Himself aNeapolitan, (having been born at Eboli, in the 
kingdom of Naples,) Ilipa's thoughts naturally turned 
to his own country for the means of accomplishing his 
design ; and, after numberless difficulties, he suc- 
ceeding in transferring to his native city, under the 
name of " the Holy Family of Jesus Christ, " the 
institution which be had projected at Pekin. It con- 
sists of two branches, the college, and the congrega- 
tion. The hitter is an asssociation of priests and 
lay brothers, (not bound, however, by religious 
vows), very similar in its constitution to the 
Oratory of St. Philip Neri. The object of their 
association is the care and direction of the College. 
The College, on the other hand, is designed for the 

* Epistola Innocent III. voL II. 723. 


purpose of educating and preparing for the priesthood, 
or at least for the office of catechist, natives of China, 
Cochin China, Pegu, Tonquin, and the Indian Pen- 
insula. They are maintained free- of all cost, and 
are conducted to Europe and back to their native 
country at the charge of the congregation ; merely 
binding themselves to devote their lives, either 
as priests or as catechists, to the duties of their na- 
tive mission, under the direction and jurisdiction of 
the sacred congregation of the Propaganda. Since 
the time of the withdrawal of the European mission- 
aries from China, the mission has relied mainly 
upon this admirable institution ; and even still 
its members continue to deserve well of the Church. 
The priest, Francis Tien, whose cruel sufferings 
for the faith are detailed by Mgr. Rizzolati in a 
letter published in the Annals of the Propagation 
of the Faith, July 1846, was a pupil of this college. 
So likewise is the excellent and zealous priest, Thomas 
Pian, who recently volunteered his services to the 
Propaganda as a missionary to the Chinese immi- 
grants in California. 

At the time of Mezzofanti's visit, March 23, 1832, 
the superior of the college of the Congregation was 
Father John Borgia, the last direct representative 
of the noble family of that name. He received the 
great linguist with the utmost cordiality; and during 
the entire time of his sojourn, the students and supe- 
riors vied with each other in their atteutions to their 
distinguished guest. From the moment of his arrival 
he had thrown himself with all his characteristic 
energy into the study of the language ; and notwith- 


standing its proverbial difficulty, and its even to him 
entirely novel character, he succeeded in an incredibly 
short time in mastering all the essential principles of 
its rudimental structure. jMost unfortunately, how- 
ever, before he had time to pursue his advantage, his 
strength gave way under this excessive application, 
and he was seized with a violent fever,* by which 
his life was for some time seriously endangered. The 
fever was attended by delirium, the effect of which, 
according to several writersf who relate the circum- 
stance, was to confuse his recollection of the several 
languages which he had acquired, and to convert his 
speech into a laughable jumble of them all. This, how- 
ever, although an amusing traveller's story, is but a 
traveller's story after all. Mezzofanti himself told 
Cardinal Wiseman that the effect of his illness was 
not merely to confuse, but to suspend his memory 
altogether. He completely forgot all his languages. 
His mind appeared to return to its first uneducated con- 
dition of thought, and whatever he chanced to express 
in the course of his delirium was spoken in simple 
Italian, as though he had never passed outside of its 

• According to my informant at Naples, the affection under which 
Mezzofanti laboured is described by the local phrase " rompergli le 
chiancarelle ," — a Neapolitan idiom which expresses something like 
our own phrase that "his brains were addled." It was ascribed to 
the excessive difficulty of the Chinese, and to his own immoderate 
application. My informant also states that, at his worst moments, 
his mind was recalled at once from its wandering by the mere men- 
tion of the name of the Holy Father, to whom he was most ten- 
derly attached. 

t Fleck's Wissenschaftliche Reise, I. p. 94. 



He was so debilitated by this illness, that immedi- 
ately upon his convalescence it became necessary for 
him to return to Rome without attempting to resume 
his Chinese studies. Most opportunely, however, 
for his wishes, the authorities of the Propaganda some 
years afterwards transferred to Eome, as we shall see, 
a certain number of these Chinese students, with the 
view of enabling them to complete with greater ad- 
vantage in the great missionary college the studies 
which they had commenced in what might almost be 
called a domestic institution. With their friendly 
assistance Mezzofanti completed what had been so 
inauspiciously interrupted by his illness.* 

The fatigues of the homeward journey brought on a 
renewal of the fever; and for some weeks after his re- 
turn to Rome, (from which he had been absent about 
two months,) he suffered considerably from its effects. 
Happily, however, it left no permanent trace in his 
constitution, and the autumn of 1832 found him en- 
gaged once more with all his usual energy in his 
favourite pursuit. The intention of the Pope in in- 
viting him to Rome, had been to place him at the 
head of the Vatican Library, as successor of the cele- 
brated Monsignor Angelo Mai, then First Keeper of 
that collection, who was about to be transferred to 
the Secretaryship of the Propaganda. The arrange- 
ments connected with this change of offices, however, 

* After the Revolution of 1848-9 the Cbfnese students for a time 
ceased to be sent to the Propaganda. Their entire course was com- 
pleted in the Neapolitan College. They have again resumed their 


■w-erenot yet completed, and Mezzofanti availed himself 
industriously of this interval of comparative leisure 
which the delay placed at his disposal. His position 
at Iiome broncrht him into contact with several Ian- 
guages of which he had never before met any living 
representative ; and many of those which he had 
hitherto had but rare and casual opportunities of 
speaking or hearing spoken were now placed within 
his reach as languages of daily and habitual use. In 
the IMaronite convent of Sant' Antonio he had ancient 
and modern Syriac, with its various modifications, at 
his command. ForArmenian, Persian, and Turkish, the 
two learned Meehitarist communities of San Giuseppe 
and Sant' Antonio supplied abundant and willing 
.masters. One of these, the eminent linguist Padre 
Aucher, whose English-Armenian Grammar Lord 
Byron more than once commemorates as their joint 
production,* was himself master of no less than twelve 
languages. To the Ruthenian priests of S. Maria 
in Navicella, he could refer for more than one of 
the Sclavonic languages. The Greek college of St. 
Athanasius, owing to the late troubles in Greece, 
was then untenanted, but there were several Greek 
students in the Propaganda, awaiting its re-opening, 
which took place in 1837. The celebrated Persian 
scholar, Sebastiani, had just recently returned to 
Rome. Signor Drach, a learned Hebrew convert, 
was Librarian of the Propaganda ; and a venerable 
Egyptian priest, Don Georgio Alabada, supplied 

• Letters and Journals, IIL 313, 315, 334. 


an opportunity of practice in the ancient Coptic, as 
well as in the Arabic dialect of modern Egypt. 

In the German College were to be found not only 
all the principal tongues of the Austrian Empire, 
German, Magyar, Czechish and Polish, but many of 
its more obscure languages — Romanic, Wallachian, Ser- 
vian, and many minor varieties of German, Rhetian, 
(the dialect of the Graubiinden, or Grisons) Dutch, 
Flemish, and Frisian. In reference to some of these 
languages, I have been uiiable to avail myself of the 
recollections of more than one student of this noble 
institution, as witness of Mezzofanti's extraordinary 

He was on terms of the closest intimacy with the 
Abbe Lacroix, of the French church of St. Lewis, 
since known as the editor of thQ Systema Theologicum 
of Leibnitz. The Rector of the English College, Dr. 
(now Cardinal) Wiseman, even then a distinguished 
orientalist, and professor of oriental languages in the 
Roman university, and the Rector of the Irish 
College, the present Archbishop of Dublin, were his 
especial friends. In both these establishments, he 
was a welcome and not unfrequent visitant. 

The several embassies, also, afforded another, though 
of course less fcmiliar school. He often metM.Bunsen, 
the Minister Resident of Prussia ; he was frequently 
the guest of the Marquis de Lavradio, the Portuguese 
ambassador, and Don Manuel de Barras, whose letter 
attesting the purity and perfection of Mezzofanti's 
Castiliah, is now before me, Avas an attache of the 
Spanish Embassy. 

The Propaganda, however, itself a perfect micro- 


cosm of language, was his principal, as well as his 
favourite school. P^or his simple and lively disposi- 
tion, the society of the young had always possessed a 
special charm ; and to his very latest hour of health, he 
continued to find his favourite relaxation among the 
youths of this most interesting institution. lu sum- 
mer, he commonly spent an hour, in winter an hour 
and a half, in the Propaganda, partly in the library, 
partly among the students, among whom he held the 
place alternately of master and of pupil ; — and, what is 
still more curious, he occasionally appeared in both 
capacities, first learning a language from the lips of 
a student, and then in his turn instructing his teacher 
in the grammatical forms and constitution of the 
very language he had taught him ! 

Independently, indeed, of study altogether, the 
Propaganda was for years his favourite place of resort, 
and there was no place where his playful and ingenu- 
ous character was more pleasingly displayed. He 
mixed among the pupils as one of themselves, with all 
the ease of an equal, and without a shade of that la- 
borious condescension which often makes the affability 
of superiors an actual penance to those whom they 
desire to render happy. While the cheerfulness of 
his conversation was often tempered by grave advice 
or tender exhortation, it was commonly lively and 
even playful, and frequently ran into an amusing 
exhibition which those who witnessed never could 
forget. In the free and familiar intercourse which he 
encoura2:ed and maintained, there sometimes arose 
sportive trials of skill, in which the great amusement 


of bis young friends consisted in endeavouring to 
puzzle him by a confusion of languages, and to pro- 
voke bim into answering in a language different from 
that in which he was addressed. The idea of these 
trials (which reminded one of the old-fashioned game 
of " cross-question," ) appears to have originated in a 
good-humoured surprise, which the Pope Gregory 
XVI. played off on Mezzofanti soon after his arrival 
in Rome. The linguist, however, was equal to the 
emergency. Like the good knight, Sir Tristram, 
he proved 

" Most master of himself, and least encumbered. 
When over-matched, entangled, and outnumbered." 

"One day,'* says M. Manavit, ." Gregory XVI. 
provided an agreeable surprise for the polyglot pre- 
late, and a rare treat for himself, in an improvised 
conversation in various tongues — a regular linguistic 
tournament. Among the mazy alleys of the Vatican 
gardens, behind one of the massive walls of verdure 
which form its peculiar glory, the Pope placed a cer- 
tain number of the Propaganda students in ambus- 
cade. When the time came for his ordinary walk, 
he invited Mezzofanti to accompany him ; and, as 
they were proceeding gravely and solemnly, on a sud- 
den, at a given signal, these youths grouped themselves 
for a moment on their knees before his Holiness, and 
then, quickly rising, addressed themselves to Mezzo- 
fanti, each in his own tongue, with such an abundance 
of words and such a volubility of tone, that, in the 
jargon of dialects, it was almost impossible to hear, 
much less to understand them. But Mezzofanti did 


uot shrink from the cuiiflict. With the promptness 
and address which were peculiar to him, he took them 
up singly, and replied to each in his own language, 
with such spirit and elegance as to amaze them all." 

In addition to these increased opportunities of ex- 
ercise, he also derived much assistance, in the more 
obscure and uncommon department of his peculiar 
studies, from the libraries of Rome, and especially 
from that of the Propaganda. The early elementary 
books, grammars, vocabularies, catechisms, &c., pre- 
pared for the use of missionaries in the remote 
missions, have for the most part been printed at the 
Propaganda press : and the library of that institution 
contains in manuscript similar elementary treatises 
in languages for the study of which no printed raatenals 
existed at that time. To all these, of course, the 
great linguist enjoyed the freest access ; and it can 
hardly be doubted that, during the first year of his 
residence in Rome, he did more to enlarge his stock 
of words, and to perfect his facility and fluency in 
conversation, than perhaps in any previous year of 
his life. 

Immediately upon Mgr. Mai's appointment to the 
Secretaryship of the Propaganda, May 15th, 1833, 
Mezzofanti was installed as Primo Custode, First 
Keeper of the Vatican Library ; and about the same 
time he was appointed to a Canonry in St. Peter's. 
In the midst of the warm congratulations which he 
received from all sides, it was not without consider- 
able distrust of his own powers, that he entered upon 
the office of Librarian, as the successor of a scholar 
so eminent as Angelo Mai. 


" It is no ordinary distinction," he wrote to his friend Car. 
Pezzana, " to be called to succeed Mgr Mai in the care of the Vati- 
can Library, — a post which has derived new brilliancy from the 
brilliant qualities of its latest occu])ant : nor can I overcome my 
apprehension lest the honour which I may gain by my first few 
hours of office may decline, when it comes to be seen how great 
is the difference between this distinguished man and his succes- 
sor. This fear, I confess, is a drawback upon my joy at this 
happy event ; but at the same time, I trust it will also stimu- 
late me to make every effort that the lustre of a position in itself 
so honourable, may not be tarnished in my person. I have only 
to wish that yonr congratulation, coming as it does from a kindly 
feeling, may be an earnest of the succesful exercise of the dili- 
gence I am determined to use in my new career, which is all the 
more grateful and honourable to me, as it furnishes more fre- 
quent occasions of corresponding with you." 

There is another of his letters of the same period, 
which to many perhaps will appear trivial, but which 
points in a still more amiable light, not alone his 
unaffected piety and humility, but the homely sim- 
plicity of his disposition, and the affection with which 
he cherished all the domestic relations. It is addressed 
to his cousin, Antonia, who has already been 
mentioned in a former part of this Memoir, but who, for 
some years before Mezzofanti's leaving Bologna, had 
been afflicted with blindness. On the occasion of his 
appointment, this lady employed the pen of a common 
friend, Signora Galli, of Bologna, to convey her con. 
gratulations to Mezzofanti. It Avould seem, moreover, 
that she had intended on the same occasion to make 
him a present, which Mezzofanti, out of consideration 
for her limited means, had thought it expedient to 


"Bologna, December 14, 1833. 
My most esteemed cousin, 

Accept, in return for all your kind congratulations and good wish- 
es, my most sincere prayer that God may bestow upon you all the 
choicest blessings of the approaching festival. There is one 
present which it is in your power to make me, and one which is 
especially suitable to a person so entirely devoted to God as you 
are : it is to offer up the holy communion for me on one of the 
coining festivals. I, upon ' my part, will offer the Holy 
Sacrifice for you on the feast of St. John ; and on the same day I 
will make a special memento of your good parish priest, the abate 
Landrino, who once, upon the same day, showed me a kindness 
which I shall never forget. Pray remember me to him, and also 
to dear Signora Galli, in whom, as your secretary, you have found 
an admirable exponent of your affectionate sentiments, for which 
I am deeply grateful to you both. My nephews unite in best 
wishes for your health and happiness. Make the best report 
from me at home, and believe me always, your most affectionate 

Joseph Mezzofanti." 



It may perhaps be convenient to interrupt the 
narrative at this point, for the purpose of bringing 
together a number of miscellaneous reports regarding 
certain languages of minor note ascribed to Mezzo- 
fanti, which, through the kindness of many friends, 
have come into my hands. I shall select those lan- 
guages especially, respecting his acquaintance with 
which some controversy has arisen. As my princi- 
pal object in collecting these reports has simply been 
to obtain a body of trustworthy materials, Avhereupon 
to found an estimate of the real extent of the great 
linguist's attainments, I shall not consider it neces- 
sary here to follow any exact philological arrange- 
ment ; but shall present the notices of the several 
languages, as nearly as possible in the order of the 
years to which they belong, reserving for a later 
time the general summary of the results. 

I shall commence with a language to which some 
allusions have been made already — the "Welsh. 


Mr. Watts, in his admirable paper so often cited, 
has recorded it, as the opinion of Mr. Thomas Ellis of 
the British Museum — " a Welsh gentleman, who saw 
Mezzofanti more than once in his later years — that 
he was unable to keep up, or even understand, a con- 
versation in the language of the Cymrj."* It is dif- 
ficult to reconcile this statement with the positive 
assertion of Mr. Harford, which we have seen in a 
former page ; — that, even as early as 1817, he himself 
" heard Mezzofanti speak Welsh." It might perhaps 
be suggested, as a solution of the difficulty, that in 
the long interval between Mr. Harford's visit, and 
that of Mr. Ellis, Mezzofanti's memory, tenacious as 
it was, had failed in this one particular ; but, about 
the period to which we have now arrived, there are 
other witnesses who are quite as explicit as Mr. 

Early in the year 1834, Dr. Forster, an English 
gentleman who has resided much abroad, and who 
(although, from the circumstance of his books being 
privately printed, little knoAvn to the English public) 
is the author of several curious and interesting works, 
visited Mezzofanti in the Vatican Library. 

"To-day," (May 14',1834) he writes in a work entitled Annates 
d\in Phyaicien Voyaqeur, " I visited Sigiior Mezzofanti, cele- 
brated for his knowledge of more than forty ancient and modem 
languages. He is secretary of the Vatican — a small man with 
an air of great intelligence, and with the organs of language 
highly developed in his face. We talked a great deal about 
• On the extraordinary Powers of Card. Mezzofanti, p. 122. 


philology, and he told ine many interesting anecdotes of his man- 
ner of learning different languages. As I was myself acquainted 
with ten languages, 1 wished to test the ability of this eminent 
linguist; and therefore j)roposed that we should leave Italian for 
the moment, and amuse ourselves by speaking different other 
languages. Having spoken in French, English, Spanish, Portu- 
guese, German, and Dutch, I said at last : — 

' My friend, I have almost run out my stock of modern lan- 
guages, except some which you probably do not know.' 

* Well,' said he, ' the dead languages, Latin and Greek, are 
matters which every one learns, and which every educated man 
is familiar with. We shall not mind them. But pray tell me 
what others you speak.' 

' I speak a little Welsh,' 1 replied. 

' Good,' said he, ' I also know Welsh.' And he began to 
talk to me at once, like a Welsh peasant. He knew also the 
other varieties of Celtic, Gaelic, Irish, and Bas-Breton."* 

Some time after the visit of Mr. Harford, too, but 
before Mezzofanti had left Bologna, when Dr. Baines, 
then Vicar Apostolic of the "Western District of Eng- 
land, (in which Wales was included,) was passing 
through that city, the abate, concluding (erroneously, 
as Dr. Baines had the mortification to confess,) that 
the bishop of Wales must necessarily be an authority 
upon its language, came to him with a Welsh Bible, 
to ask his assistance on some points connected with 
the pronunciation, being already acquainted with the 
language itself f 

* Annales d'un Phjsicien Voyageur, par F. Forster, M. D. pp. 
60 — 1, Bruges, 1851. 

f Miss Mitford, in her '< Recollections of a Literary Life," vol. IL 
203) relates this anecdote differently. She has confounded together 
two different periods at which Dr. Baines met Mezzofanti — the first 
at Bologna when this incident occurred, the second many years later, 
■when Mezzofanti was Librarian of the Vatican. The anecdote, as 
related above, was communicated to me by the late Rev. Dr. Cox, 
of Southampton, who learned it from the bishop himself. 


Another of his visitors, while at Bologna, has put 
on record a testimony to the same effect, which, al- 
though it does not expressly allude to Mezzofanti's 
speaking the language, yet evidently supposes his ac- 
quaintance with it, and which moreover is interest- 
ing for its own sake. I allude to Dr. W. F. Edwards, 
of Paris, author of an able and curious essay addressed 
to the historian, Amedee Thierry, " On the Physiolo- 
gical Characters of the Races of Man, in their Rela- 
tion to History.'* In this essay, while combating 
the popular notion, that in England the ancient Bri- 
tish race has been completely displaced by the vari- 
ous northern conquerors who have overrun the coun- 
tey. Dr. Edwards alleges in support of his own 
work, which he heard expressed by Mezzofanti, and 
which, although founded on purely philological prin- 
ciples,* he regards as a singular confirmation of his 
own physiological deductions. 

"I owe/'he says, " to the celebrated Mezzofanti, whom I had the 
pleasure of meeting at Bologna, an example of what I have been 
urging ; and I am glad to repeat it here for more reasons than 
one. You will see in it a further confirmation of the conclusion re- 
garding the Britons of England, which 1 have deduced from sources 
of a very different kind. If there is any characteristic which 
distinguishes English from the other modern languages of 
Europe, it is the extreme irregularity of its pronunciation. 
In other languages, when you have once mastered the fundamen- 
tal sounds, you are enabled, by the aid of certain general rules, to 
pronounce the words with a tolerable approach to accuracy, even 
■without understanding the meaning. In English you can never 

• The relation of the English language to the ancient British tongue 
is discussed by Latham, "The English Language," vol. I. p. 344 5. 


pronounce until you have actually learned the language. Mezzo- 
fantijin speaking to me of Welsh, traced to that language the origin 
of this peculiarity of the English. I had no necessity to ask him 
through what channel. I knew, as well as he, that the English could 
not have borrowed from the Welsh ; and that, before the Saxon in- 
vasion, the Britons had spoken the same language which after- 
wards became peculiar to Wales. Thus of his own accord and 
without my seeking for it, he gave me a new proof, entirely inde- 
pendent of the reasons which had already led me to the convic- 
tion that, despite the Saxon conquest, the Britons had never 
ceased to exist in England. They had for centuries beendeemed 
extinct; and yet he lecognises their descendants, so to speak, by 
the sound of their voice, as I have recognised them by their fea- 
tures ! What more is needed to establish the identity ?" 

In the marked conflict between these testimonies 
and the strong adverse opinion expressed by Mr. 
Ellis, "that the Cardinal was unable to keep up or 
even understand a conversation in the language of 
the Cymry," nay that " he could not even read an 
ordinary book with facility," I have had inquiries 
made through several Welsh friends, the result of 
which, coupled with the authorities already cited, satis- 
fies me that Mr. Ellis was certainly mistaken in his 
judgment. The belief that Mezzofanti knew and 
spoke Welsh appears to be universal. Mr. Rhys Powel, 
a Welsh gentleman who was personally acquainted 
with him, often heard that he understood Welsh, and 
I have received a similar assurance from a Welsh 
clergyman of my acquaintance. Mr. Rhys Powel, 
mentions the name of the late Mr. Williams of 
Aberpergwin, as having " actually conversed with 
the Cardinal in Welsh," during a visit to Rome some 
time before his eminence's death ; and a short com- 


position of his in that language, which I submitted 
to two eminent Welsh scholars, is pronounced by 
them not only correct, but idiomatic in its struc- 
ture and pharseology. 

With such a number of witnesses, entirely indepen- 
dent of each other, and spread over so long a period, 
attesting Mezzofanti*s knowledge of Welsh, I can 
hardly hesitate to conclude that Mr. Ellis's impres- 
sion to the contrary must have arisen from some ac- 
cidental misunderstanding, or perhaps from one of 
those casual failures from which even the most perfect 
are not altogether exempt. The concluding para- 
graph of Dr. Edward's notice is interesting, although 
upon a different ground. 

" It is to be regretted," he adds," that a man who surpasses all 
others by his prodigious knowledge of languages, should content 
himself with what is but anevidence of his own learning,and should 
conceal from the world the science upon which that learning is 
founded. It is not to his prodigious memory and the, so to say, 
inborn aptitude of his mind for retaining words and their combi- 
nations, that he owes the facility with which he masters all lan- 
guages, but to his eminently analytical mind, which rapidly pen- 
etrates their genius and makes it its own. I collect from himself 
that he studies languages, rather through their spirit than through 
their letter. What do we know of the spirit of languages ? 
Almost nothing. But if Mezzofanti would communicate to the 
world the fruit of his observations, we should see a new science 
aiise amongst us.''* 

It will be recollected that Flemish was one of the 
minor languages which he acquired during his resi- 
dence at Bologna, From the time of his settling at 

• Des Caracteres Physiologiques des Races Humaines consideres 
dans leur Rapports avee I'Histoire. Par, W. F. Edwards, p. 102. 


Kome, his opportunities of practice in this and the 
kindred dialect of Holland, were almost of daily oc- 
currence. One of the earliest appears to have been 
afforded by his intercourse with a young student of 
the Germanic College, the abbe Malou, since one of 
the most distin squished of the Catholic literati of Bel- 
gium,* for several years Professor of Scripture in 
the University of Louvain, and now Bishop of Bruges. 
Monseigneur Malou has been good enough to note 
down for me his recollections of his intercourse with 
Mezzofanti, in so far as they relate to his native 

" During my stay in Rome (1831-35),! conversed several times 
in Flemish with Cardinal Mezzofanti, and I was thus enabled to 
ascertain that he understood our language thoroughly. He spoke 
tome of the works of Cats and Vondel, two distinguished Flemish 
poets, which he had read. Nevertheless, 1 fancied that I per- 
ceived his vocabulary to be rather limited. He often rejjeated 
the same words and phrases. He spoke with a Brabant accent, 
for he had learned Flemish from some young men of Brussels, 
who studied at the University of Bologna, in which his "Emi- 
nence was at that tinie Librarian. Monsignor Mezzofanti, after 
I had spoken, remarked of himself, that 1, being a Fleming, did 
not speak as they do in Brabant; and hence he had a difficulty 
in catching some of my expressions, which he requested me to 
repeat. It is, therefore, not quite correct to say, that he knew 
our different dialects ; but, if he had had occasion to learn them, 
he could, without doubt, have done so with great ease. 

Some days before my departure, from Rome, in May, 1835, 
I met this learned dignitary in the sacristy of S. Peter's. He at 

• It can scarcely be necessary to allude to Mgr Malou's admirable 
book On the Reading of the Bible in the vulgar Tongue.J His inter- 
esting essay On the Authorship of the Imitation of Christ, is less 


once accosted me in Flemish ; and, when I had replied, he up- 
braided me with having forgotten my mollier tongue, for I mixed 
uj) with it, he said, some German words. The reproach was 
well founded : for T had passed about three years in the German 
College, where I had learned a little German, and had had mean- 
while no occasion to speak Flemish. Such a reproof from an 
Italian, who thus gave lessons in Flemish to a Fleming, struck 
me as exceeding droll, and amused me not a little. This anec- 
dote shows what minute attention the learned Cardinal paid to 
the boundary lines of kindred tongues. 

I have heard Mezzofanti, in the course of one evening, speaking 
Italian, English, German, F'lemish, Russian, French, and the 
Sicilian and Neapolitan dialects of Italian.''* 

This poverty of bis Flemish vocabiilary,hoAvcver,dis- 
appearccl Avith practice. Another learned Belgian eccle- 
siastic, Monsignor Aerts, who subsequently to the 
sojourn of M. Malou in Rome, resided there for many 
years, as Rector of the Belgian College, reports as fol- 
lows of Mezzofanti's Flemish, such as he found it in 
1837 and the following year. 

" I was intimately acquiiinted with Cardinal Mezzofanti, during 
my sojourn in Rome; that is to say, from 1837 to the moment 
of his death. I saw him frequently. After the establishment 
in Rome of the Belgian Ecclesiastical College, of v/hich I was 
the first President, and he the Patron, I had still more frequent 
relations with his eminence. I sj)oke to him several times in each 
month. Part of our conversation always took place in Flemish. 
I can assure you that he never had to look for a word, and that 
he spoke our language most freely, and with a purity of expres- 
sion and pronunciation not always to be met with among our own 
countrymen. One day that I was admitted along with the Car- 
dinal, to an audience of the Pope Gregory XVI, during his hour 

• For this and the following notices I am indebted to the kind 
oflBces of my friend Canon Donnet of Brussels. 



of recreation, His Holiness expressed a desire to hear him speak- 
ing Flemish with me. We then began a little discussion about 
the relative difficulty of German and Flemish. His Eminence 
thought Flemish the harder of the two. The Pope called him 'a 
living Pentecost.' He also wrote Flemish poetry: and one day 
he gave me several verses of his own composition, to send in 
token of remembrance to a young gentleman from Bruges whom 
he had confirmed at Rome. Mezzofanti not only knew 
the language itself thoroughly, but he was moreover acquainted 
with its histor>' and with the principal Flemish and Dutch authors. 
I heard him speak oi the works of Vondel, Cats, David, &c He 
spoke and pronounced Dutch equally well. He said, however, 
that, the modern Holiandershad changed the language by approxi- 
mating to the German. He knew, also, some of the local dialects 
of Flemish, especially that of Brussels. He could even distin- 
guish the inhabitants of Brussels by their accent, of which I have 
more than once been witness. When he saw a Fleming, he al- 
ways saluted him in his own tongue ; as he indeed did with 
all foreigners. 

In 1838, Cardinal Sterckx, Archbishop of M alines, paid a visit 
to Rome, and I had the honour of being present during several 
conversations which he held in Flemish with Cardinal Mezzo- 
fanti. The latter once took a fancy to have a little Flemish 
conversation with his colleague, in a consistory which the Pope 
held at this time: and he himself playfuUy remarked that pro- 
bably that was the first time, since the origin of the Church, that 
two cardinals had talked Flemish in a papal consistorj'. 
Cardinal Sterckx told me this anecdote the same day." 

The complete success with which he overcame the 
deficiency that M. Malou had observed in 1831, and 
the curious mastery of the various dialects which his 
singularly exquisite perception of the minutest pecu- 
liarities of language enabled him to acquire, are attest- 
ed by another witness of the same period, Father 
Yan Calven of the same city. 


"On the 6th February, 184 1," he wiltes/'the Cardinal, who was no 
less kind and afiiible thanlearned, administered the firstcouimimion 
to my cousin, Leo van Oockerout, who was then with his friends 
in Rome. Being a Belgian, a friend, and a relative, 1 was in- 
vited to be present at the ceremony, which took place in the 
Church of S. Peter, over the tomb of SS. Peter and Paul. 
Cardinal Mezzofanti celebrated the Holy Sacrifice; and after the 
Gospel, or "perhaps immediately before the child's communion, he 
made a little discourse in French, in reference to the beautiful oc- 
casion which had drawn us together. This little dibcourse, which 
was very simple, was in excellent French. After the ceremony 
was over, he called us all into the sacristy, and there we had a 
conversation in Flemish. His eminence distinguished the dif- 
ferent dialects of our Belgian provinces perfectly. Thus I re- 
member distinctly that he said to us : 'I learned Flemish from 
a native of Brabant, and this is the way I pronounce the word ; 
but, you from Flanders, pronounce it thus.' — I forget what 
was the word about which there was question ; but at any rate, 
the Caidinal was quite connect in his observation." 

The same curiously delicate power of " discrimi- 
nating the various dialects of the language, and of 
distinguishing by their accents, the inhabitants of the 
various provinces of Belgium," are attested by 
another member of the same society, Father Legrelle. 
On the eve of this gentleman's return to Belgium, he 
asked the Cardinal to be so good as to write his 
name in his Album de Voyage. On the very instant, 
and in F. Legrelle's presence, his Eminence penned 
these Flemish verses, which he gave to M. Legrelle 
as a souvenir : — 

God wept, en wyst den weg tot de volkomenheid ; 
Hoort zyne stem, myn Vrieud, de stemme der waerheid.* 

• " God calls, and points out the path of perfection, 
. Hearken my friend, to ilis voice — the voice of Truth." 


One of M. Legrellc's companions, M. Leon Wilde, 
a native of Holland, and now a member of the Jesuit 
Society at Katwick, bears the same testimony to the 
facility and elegance with which the Cardinal spoke 
Dutch. M. Wilde also mentions his havino; written 
some verses in that language. But a " Tour to Rome"* 
by a Dutch professor, Dr. Wap, published at Breda, in 
1 839, contains so full and so interesting a notice of the 
great linguist, in reference to this department of his 
accomplishment, that, without referring further to 
M. Wilde's letter, I shall content myself with trans- 
lating the most important passages of Dr. Wap's 
account of his visit. The author, then a professor in 
the military college of Breda, is now resident at Utrecht. 

"Joseph JMezzofanti," he writes," is at piesentf in his sixty-fifth 
year. He is of a slight figure, pale complexion, black hair which 
is beginning to turn gray, a piercing eye, quick utterance, 
and an air full of good humour, but not very intellectual, so that 
one would hardly expect to discover faculties so extraordinary 
under such an exterior. The first time I saw him was in the 
Vatican library, in the large hall which is furnished with tables, 
for the accommodation of those who wish to read or to take notes. 
He was busy distributing books, and at the same time was talking 
to an English lady accompanied by some English gentlemen. 
I afterwards spent an hour or two with this family, and learned 
that Mezzofanti had written in the lady's album four very grace- 
ful English lines, regarding America, whence she had come, and 
Vienna, where she was going to reside. As soon as the librarian 
noticed any foreigner, he at once began a conversation with him, 
and carried it on, no matter what might be the stranger's idiom. 
Prince Michael of Russia was amazed at ti)e ease and volubility 
with which Mezzofanti spoke the Polish language. He accosted 

* Mijne'lieis naar Rom in het Voorjahr van 1837. Door Dr. 
Jan J. F. Wap.. 2 vols, 8vo., Breda, 1839. 

f In the year 1837. This is a slight mistake : he was only sixty- three. 


mc in English, which has in s)me measure become ii.dig^n( us o 
Rome : but, finding I was from Holland, he at once continued 
the conversation in the Brussels dialect (as he called it,) and told 
me how scanty the means were of which he had been ahie to avail 
himself in the study of Flemish. These were : a Flemish gram- 
mar ; two authors, (Bolhuis and Ten Kate,) with whom he was 
acquainted ; and finally, Voudel and Cats, whom he had care- 
fidly read. He had never seen any of Bildordyk's works, and 
he inquired whether this scholar had not introduced a dialect into 
the Dutch langiiage. When I had given him the necessary in- 
formation, and told him that IJilderdyk, besides a hinidred other 
works, had written a book on the characters of the Al])habet, 
another on the Gender of Substantives, and three volumes on 
their roots, his delight was extreme, and he exjjrcssed a" great 
desire to possess these works. I undertook to send them to him, 
and I took care to redeem my promise, as soon as I returned 
home.* After this interview, I did not j^resume to manifest my 
earnest desire for any further interviews with him : but 
Mezzofanti anticipated my wishes, and invited me to come 
and see him at the Propaganda, as often as I liked. There it is 
that he spends some hours, every evening, among the students, 
talkingwith each in his own tongue. I took advantage of his kind 
proposal, and had thus an o])portunity of getting a nearer view 

of this college of the Propaganda. 

* * * ^ * ^ * 

Nowhere will one find so many resources for amassing treasures 
of knowledge united together, as in the vast college of the Pro- 

•5f -Jt * * -Jt * ^ 

Here are assembled a hundred and fourteen students from 
forty-one diflerenl countries. At my request, the Rector caused 
the Pater Nostertobe written by sixteen foreign students in 
their respective languages. Hero, in the evening, in the midst 
of these various nations, I n)et Mezzofanti, who seemed to belong 
to each of them. He spoke Chinese with Leang of Canton, as 

* These books are found upon the Catalogue, p. 10.5. 


easily as he spoke Dutch with Mr. Steeiihof* of Utrecht. I will 
never forget the instructive hours which I spent there. The na- 
tural frankness of Mezzofanti, his free and communicative conver- 
sation, his easy tone, his gay disposition, all rendered uiy fare- 
well visit, which 1 twice repeated, very painful to me. 

Amidst so many grave employments, Mezzofanti goes twice 
each week to the house of the orphans, to teach them the cate- 
chism, and to the barracks of the Swiss soldiers to instruct them 
in the pi'inciples of religion. The library requires his care twice 
in the week, for several hours in the morning ; in the afternoon 
he gives lessons to the pupils of the Propaganda, whose studies 
he superintends ; to his care are confided the public discourses 
delivered on the Epiphany : almost all foreigners come to visit 
him ; in fine, he pays his visits in his humble equipage, and at- 
tends at the Pope's court when pressing afi'airs requires his 
presence ; and, notwithstanding so many duties and occupations, 
he still finds time to assist at the divine ofBces. Who will not 
feel profound respect and sincere admiration for such a man ? 

I will here subjoin some lines which I wrote extempore in 
Mezzofanti's album, together with his immediate reply. 

'Wie ooit de Pinkstergaaf in twijfel durfde trekken. 
Sta hier beschaamd, verplet voor Mezzofanti's geest, 

Hij eere in hem den man, die de aard ten tolk kan strekken. 
Wiens brien in 't taalgeheim van alle volken leest. 

Aanvaard, 6 Telg van't Zuid, den eerbiedgroet van't Noorden, 
Maar denk, terwijl nu oog mijn nietig schrift beziet, 

Al mist der Batten spraak Italjes zang akkoorden, 
Hun tongval of hun ziel leent zich tot vleijen niet.' 

My veritable impromptu instantly called forth this beautiful 

ansAver from Mezzofanti : — 

* Mynheer ! als uw fi'aaj schril't kwam heden voor mijne oogen. 

Door Uw' goedaardigheid was ikheel opgetogen, 

En zooveel in mijn geesi zooveel in't hart opklom, 

Dat mijne long verbleef mcd vijftig taalen stom. 

* Afterwards Professor in the Catholic Seminary of Warmond, in 
Holland, and at present Cure at Soest, in the province of Utrecht. 


Nu, opdat ik niet schijn U ten oiiilaukbaav wezen, 
Bid ik U in niijn hart alleeu te willeii lezeii.* 

Joseph .Mczzofanli. 
Rome, den 17 April, 1837.' 

After writing these lines, he asked nie if there were any mis- 
takesin theni, and, if so, if 1 would be good enough to point them 
out to him. I then noticed the word fraaj in the first line, know- 
ing he would reply that that the letter /at the end of a word sho\il(l 
be replaced byaj. The aa in /aa'e/i,inihe fourih lino, lie justified 
by a reference to the Flemish grammar which he used at the time. 
As for the d in the preposition vied, which occurs in the same 
line, he contended that this was the projier orthography of the 
word, as it was an abbreviation of mede. I would have been 
greatly surprised at all this, if 1 had not previously had occa- 
sion to admire the delicate ear which this giant of linguistic 
learning possessed for the subtleties of pronunciation, and the 
wonderful perspicacity of his orthographical system : especially 
as he had expressed to me his just disapprobation of the foreign 
words which some of our countrymen are letting slip into their con- 
versation. He had already given proof to another traveller from 
Holland that he was perfectly acquainted with the difference 
between the words niinmer and nooit, so that he hardly ever used 
one for the other." 

* '* Let him who dares to doubt the gift of Pentecost, stand ashamed 
and confounded before the mind of Mezzofanti. In him, let him 
honour that man who is fit to be the earth's interpreter — whose in- 
tellect penetrates the language- secret of all nations. 

" Accept, son of the South, ihe respectful salutation of the North. 
But think, while your eye beholds my poor address, that if the 
Batavians' language lacks Italian melody, their tongue and soul are 
both averse to flattery." 

Mezzofanti's reply: — 

*' Sir, when first the day my eyes were cast upon your beautiful 
address, I was quite enraptured by vour great kindness. It so raised 
up my mind and heart, that, although master of fifty languages, my 
tongue remained speechless — But lest I should seem an ingrate, I beg 
you just to read my heart." 


Side by side with the^Dutch traveller's sketch, may 
be placed a still more lively account of Mezzofauti 
by another visitor of the Vatican, the poet Frankl, 
a Bohemian by birth, but chieHy known by his Ger- 
man writings. This sketch, besides the allusion to 
Mezzofanti's skill in the poet's native language, 
Bohemian, contains a slight, but not uninteresting 
specimen of Mezzofanti's German vocabulary, and, 
moreover, illustrates very curiously the attention 
which he seems always to have given to the general 
principles of harmony, and his acquaintance with 
the metrical capabilities of more than one ancient 
and modern language. The Signer Luzatto, to whose 
introductory letter Frankl refers, was a friend of 
Mezzofanti — a distinguished Italian Jew — himself an 
accomplished linguist, and well known to orien- 
talscholars by his contributions to the Archives Israel- 
ites, and by a work on the Babylonian Inscriptions. 

" Having furnished nnyseir,'" writes Herr Frankl, " with a 
letter of introduction from Luzatto of Padua, -T went to the Vati- 
can Library, of which Mezzofanti was the head. His arrival 
was looked for every moment ; and I occupied the interval by 
examining the long, well lighted gallery of antiquities which is 
outside, and which also leads into the halls that contain the 
masterpieces of ancient art in marble. I was in the act of read- 
ing the inscription upon one of the many marble slabs which are 
inserted in the wall, when a stranger who, except myself, was 
the sole occupant of the gallery, said to me; ' Here comes Mon- 
signor Mezzofanti ! ' 

An undei sized man, somewhat disposed towaids corpulency, 
in a violet cassock (ailing to the ancle, and a white surplice 
which reached totheknee, camebriskly, almost hurriedly, towards 
us. He carried his four-cornered violet cap in his hand, and 


thus I was better able to iiuie bis lively, tbough not striking 
features, and his grey hair still mingled with black. About his 
lips played a smile, which I afterwards observed to be their 
habitual expression. He appeared to be not far from sixty. 
When he came sufficiently near, I advanced to meet him with a 
silent bow, and he at once received me with the greeting in 
German, * Setjn Sie mir w'dlkommen !' ( ' You are welcome.') 

* I am .surprised, Monsignor, ' I replied, ' that you address me 
in German, although I have not spoken a word as yet.' * Oh, ' 
said he, ' a great many foreigners of all countries come to visit 
me, and I have acquired a certain routine — pardon me, I should 
have said a certain ' knack,' (die Routine — verzeihen sie, ' die 
gewandtheit' sollte ich sagen — ) of discovering their nationality 
from their physiognomy, or rather from their features.' 

' I am sorry, Monsignor.' I replied, ' that it is my ill fortune 
to belie this knack of yours. I am a native of Bohemia, although 
not of Bohemian race, and Bohemian is my mother tongue.' 

" To what nationality, then, do you belong .>" asked Mezzo - 
fanti in Bohemian, without a moment's hesitation." 

He afterwards changed the language to Hebrew. 

Frankl adds, that on a second visit to the reading 
room of the Vatican, he found the gay animated 
Monsignor in the ordinary black dress of a priest ; 
and took this opportunity to present him a copy of his 
" Colombo," in which he had written the inscription, 
" Dem Sprachen-cliamceleon Mezzofanti.^'' (" To 
Mezzofanti, the Chameleon of language".) 

" ' Ha,' said Mezzofanti, with a smile, ' I have had numberless 
compliments paid me ; but this is a s])ick and span new one,' 
( funkelnagel-neu.) 

Upon this word he laid a sj)ecial emphasis, as if to call my 
attention to his well known familiarity with unusual words. 

* I see,' he continued, ' jou liave adopted the Italian form of 
cantos and stanzas.' 

' Yes,' I replied, ' the Germans nowadays, for the most 
part, do homage to the Italian forms.' 


'At last!' said he, with a smile not unmixed with triumph. 
' Schlegel, Burger, and Platen,' I said, ' have wrillen^ sonnets 
quite as harmonious as Petrarch's, and Tasso's stanza has found 
its rival among the Germans.' 

' Well, at all events,' replied Mezzofanti, ' the Germans have 
not succeeded in hexameters. Klopstock's are incorrect and inhar- 
monious. What harmony is there in the line: — 

' Sing, unsterbliche Seele, des sundigen Menschen Erlosung !' 
Where is the caesura — s])eaking to you, I should nay, abschni ft — 
in this line ? Voss, it is true, wrote correctly ; and yet an Italian 
will hang down his chin whenever Voss's hexameters are read. 
As for Goethe, what sort of poetry is his? You know his elegies — 
for example, the hexameter which ends 

'blaustrumpf und violet strumpf !'* 

Surely he must have taken the Germans for a hard-hearted 
nation !' 

I quoted for him the burlesque couplet which was composed in 
ridicule of Schiller's and Goethe's distichs. 

' In Weimar und Jenam acht man Hexameter wie den, 
Und die Pentameter sind noch erbarmlicher.' 
He repeated it at once after me, and seemed to wish to impress it 
on his mind. 

* Do you know,' he pursued, ' what language I place before all 
others, next to Greek and Italian, for constructive capability and 
rythmical harmoniousness ? — The Hungarian. I know some 
pieces of the later poets of Hungary, the melody of which 
took me completely by surprise. Mark its future history, and you 
will see in it a sudden outburst of poetic genius, which will fully 

* This is not quite correctly cited — The passage is in the sixth of 
the Elegies, "aus Rom," [vol. I. p 48. Paris, 1836.] 

. So hab' ich von Herzen, 

Rothstrumpf immer gehasst und violet-strumpf dazu. 
It certainly deserves all the ridicule which Mezzofanti heaps on it, 
and might well make 

— — the Muses, on their racks, 

Scream like the winding often thousand jacks. 
The allusion to 'red stocking' and 'violet stoclsing,' is one of 
Goethe's habitual sneers at the CathoUc prelacy. 


con6rin my prediction. The Hungarians themselves do not 
seem to be aware what a treasure they have in their language.'* 

' It would be in the highest degree interesting,' said I, ' if you 
would draw up a comparative sketch of the metrical capabilities 
of all the various languages that you speak. Who is there that 
could speak on the subject with more authority ?' 

He received my suggestion with a smile, but made no reply. 
He seems, indeed, to content himself with the glory of being 
handed down to posterity as the Croesus of languages, without 
leaving to them the slightest permanent fruit of his immense 
treasures of science, "f 

Among these less commonly cultivated languages, 
I may also class Maltese. In this Mezzofanti was 
equally at home. As Maltese can scarcely be said 
to possess anything like a literature,^ it may be 
presumed that he acquired it chiefly by oral instruc- 
tion, partly from occasional visitors to Eome, partly 
from some ^Maltese servants who were in the Propa- 
ganda at the time of his arrival. This much at least 
is certain, that, in the year 1840, he spoke the lan- 
guage freely and familiarly. Father Andrew Schem- 
bri, of La Valetta, during a residence in Rome in that 
year, having conducted the preparatory spiritual exer- 
cises for a number of youths to whom the Cardinal ad- 

* The idea which Mezzofanti throws out here as to the seeming 
national unconsciousness of the metrical capabilities of the Magyar 
language is very curiously developed by Mr. Watts, in a paper 
recently read before the Philological Society. Transactions of 
Phil. Society, 1S35, pp. 285-310. 

t Steger's Erganzungs-Conversations-Lexicon. Vol. IX., pp. 395-7. 
The work which is intended as a supplement to the existing Encyclo- 
paedias, is a repertory of interesting and novel information. 

• The only Maltese books in the Mezzofanti catalogue are the 
New Testament ; Panzavecchia's Grammatica della Lingua Maltese, 
Malta, 1845, and Vassalli's Lexicon, 


ministered the first communion in the church of San 
Vito, met his Eminence at breakfast in the convent 
attached to this church. No sooner was Father 
Schembri presented to him as a Maltese, than he en- 
tered into conversation with him inhisown language.* 
Another Maltese ecclesiastic, Canon Falzou of the 
cathedral, met the Cardinal in Rome at a later date, 
in 1845-6. In the course of his sojourn he "had 
frequent opportunities, for a period of eleven months, 
of conversing with him in Maltese, which he spoke 
very well."f 

I need scarcely observe that, although in the capital 
and the principal towns of Malta, the prevailing lan- 
guage is Italian, the dialect spoken by the rural 
population contains a large admixture of foreign 
elements, chiefly Arabic and Greek. To what a 
degree the former language enters into the composi- 
tion of Maltese, may be. inferred from the well-known 
literary imposture of Vella, who attempted to pass 
off a forgery of his own as an Arabic history of 
Sicily under the Arabs. J 

Before closing this chapter, I shall add a short note 
of the Count de Lavradio, Portuguese 'ambassador in 
London, and brother of the Marquis de Lavradio, 
who for many years held the same office in Rome. 
It regards Mezzofanti's acquaintance with Portuguese, 
another language which very few foreigners take the 
trouble to acquire. 

* Letter dated February 18, 1857. 
t Letter dated February 20, 1857. 
X See Biograpliie Univerbelle, art. Veha. Also Adelung's Mithri- 
dates, L 416. 


" I have always heairl," writes his excellency, " both from 
in y brother and from other learned Portuguese who knew Cardinal 
Mezzofanti, that he was per fcctly conversant with the Portuguese 
language, and that he spoke it with facilityand with elegance. 
I myself have read letters written by him in excellent Portuguese ; 
particularly one very remarkable one, addressed by him to the 
learned M. de ouza, for the purpose of conveying his thanks 
for the oiler which M de ^ ouza h;Kl made to him, of a copy of 
the magnificent edition of Camoens, Avhich he had published in 

The Marquis de Lavradio here referred to, while 
ambassador at Rome, expressed the same opinion to 
Cardinal Wiseman. The Marquis, in Mezzofanti's 
Portuguese, was particularly struck by the precision 
of his language and the completeness of his mastery 
over even the delicate forms of conversational 
phraseology. He instanced in particular one of his 
letters. It was perfect, he said, not only in vocabu- 
lary but in form, even down to the minutest phrases 
of conventional compliment and formal courtesy. 



I RESUME the narrative. 

The Librarian of the Vatican, or as he is more 
properly called the " Librarian of the Roman Church," 
( Bibliotecario della Chiesa Romaria,) is always a 
Cardinal, commonly the Cardinal Secretary of State. 
His duties as such, however, are in great measure 
nominal ; and the details of the management practi- 
cally rest with the Priiiio Custode, or chief keeper of 
the Library, who is assisted by a second keeper, and 
seven scrittori, or secretaries, among whom are dis- 
tributed the seven departments, — Hebrew, Syriac, 
Arabic, G-reek, Latin, Italian, and modern foreign 
languages — into which the books are classified. 

The Cardinal Librarian at the time of Mezzofanti's 
appointment was Cardinal Della Somaglia, who had 
been Secretary of State under the Popes Leo XII. 
and Pius VIII. ; and who, although, owing to his great 
age, he had retired from the more active office of 
Secretary, still retained that of Librarian of the Vati- 
can. Mezzofanti's colleague as Secondo Custode^ 
was Monsignor Andrea Molza, an orientalist of high 


reputation, and Professor of Hebrew in tlie Roman 

Attached to the Basilica of St. Peter's, and subject 
to the chapter of that church, is a college for the edu- 
cation of ecclesiastics, ( popularly called Fietrini, ) 
"whose striking and picturesque costume seldom fails to 
attract the notice of strangers. The Rector of this 
college is always a member of the chapter, and is 
elected by the canons themselves from among their 
number. Immediately upon his nomination by the 
Pope as member of the chapter, Mezzofanti was ap- 
pointed by his brother canons to the office of I'iector 
of this college, which he continued to hold till his ele- 
vation to the Cardinalate. The office is in great 
part honorary ; and Mezzofanti, in addition to his 
gratuitous services, devoted a considerable part of 
his income from other sources to the improvement of 
the establishment, and especially to the support of 
many meritorious students, whose limited means 
would harve excluded them from its advantages but 
for his disinterested generosity. 

He was also named Consulter of the Sacred Congre- 
gation for the correction of oriental books, and a 
censor of the academy. 

It need hardly be said that, from the moment of his 
arrival in Rome, he had l^een received with warm and 
ready welcome in every scientific and literary circle. 
With Monsignor Mai, both during his residence at the 
Vatican and after his removal to the Propaganda, he 
was on terms of most friendly intercourse, and the 
confidant of many of his literary undertakings. The 
most distinguished professors of the several schools 


ofRorae, Graziosi, Fornari, Modeiia, DeVico, Perrone, 
Palma, Manera, De Luca, vied with each other in 
doing him honour. He was elected into all the lead- 
ing literary societies and academies of the city ; and 
soon after his appointment as Vatican Librarian, he 
read in the "Academy of the Catholic Religion," a 
paper which attracted much notice at the time : " On 
the Services of the Church in promoting the Diffusion 
of True Knowledge, and the Development of the 
Human Mind." 

■ The Pope, Gregory XVL, himself, a great lover of 
oriental studies, received him into his most cordial 
intimacy. In the one brief hour of recreation which 
this great and zealous pontiff, who retained even in 
the Vatican the spirit and the observances of the 
cloister, allowed himself after dinner, Mezzofanti was 
his frequent companion. The privilege of entree was 
open to him at all times ; but it was specially under- 
stood that at this more private and informal hour, when 
the Pope loved to see his most cherished friends 
around him, Mezzofanti should present himself at 
least once every week. 

In like manner his early friend, Giustiniani. also 
an accomplished oriental scliolar, lost no time, on 
Mezzofanti's coming to Rome, in resuming with 
him the intimate friendship which they had contract- 
ed during his Eminence's residence at Bologna, as 
Cardinal Legate. Mezzofanti used to spend every 
Wednesday evening with Cardinal Giustiniani ; and 
on one occasion, when Dr. Wiseman called at the 
Cardinal's, he found them reading Arabic together. 
He met with equal kindness from the Cardinal Se- 
cretary, Bernetti, and from Cardinal Albani, who had 


both known liiui at Bologna. The venerable old 
Cardinal Pacca, too, took especial delight in his com- 
pany. He was a constant guest at the literary, assem- 
blies in the palace of Cardinal Zurla, known to 
general readers as the historian of Marco Polo and 
the early Venetian travellers.* On Pentecost Sunday, 
1834, the anniversary of the Feast of Tongues, 
the Cardinal gave a dinner in honour of the great 
Polyglot, at which many foreigners (one of whom 
was the present Cardinal Wiseman) speaking a great 
variety of languages, and all the most distin- 
guished linguists of Rome, were present. Each of 
the guests carried away a feeling of wonder, almost 
as though his own language had been the only 
subject of Mezzofanti's extraordinary display. Signer 
Drach, the learned Jcav, named in a former page,f de- 
clared that he had not thought it possible for any but a 
born Hebrew to speak both Scriptural and Rabbinical 
Hebrew with the fluency and correctness which 
Mezzofanti was able to command. A Polish priest 
named Ozarowski,t who sat next to Mezzofanti, as- 
sured the late Dr. Cox, of Southampton, that, had he 
not known Mezzofanti personally, he would, from his 
conversation, have believed him to be a highly educa- 
ted Pole ; and he added that, " foreigner as this great 

• Di Marco Polo, e degli altri Viaggiatori Venczlani, 2 vols., 
4to, Venice, 1818. 

t Signor Drach is the author of an erudite Essay, " Du Divorce 
dans la Synagogue," and of several interesting dissertations on the 

J One of the victims in 1840, of the tyrannical church policy of the 
late Czar in Poland and Polish Russia — He was exiled to Siberia. 


linguist was, liis familiarity with Polish literature and 
history completely threw his own into the shade." 
Nor was this extraordinary faculty confined to the 
literature and language alone. A Polish lady was so 
astonished, not only at his knowledge of the language, 
but at his " acquaintance with the country, and even 
with individuals, (for many of whom he inquired by 
name, describing where they lived, what Avas their 
occupation, &c.,") that, as she assured Cardinal Wise- 
man, she " could not believe that he had not resided, 
or at least travelled, in Poland." 

The exact number of languages to which this 
extraordinary facility extended, had long been a mat- 
ter of speculation. Mezzofanti himself — averse to every- 
thing that bore the appearance of display — although 
repeatedly questioned on the subject, generally evaded 
the inquiry, or passed it off with a jesting ansAver. It 
is probable too, that he was deterred from any enu- 
meration by the difficulty of distinguishing between 
languages properly so-called, and dialects. The 
first distinct statement of his OAvn, bearing directly 
upon the point, which I have been able to trace on 
good authority to himself, was made soon after his 
appointment as Vatican Librarian, in an interview 
with a gentleman of Italian family, long resident in 
England, who was introduced to him by Dr. Cox, at 
that time vice-rector of the English College. The 
particulars of the interview were communicated to me 
by Dr. Cox himself, in a letter which 1 received from 
him a very short time before his death. The gentle- 
man referred to was Count Mazzinghi, the well 


known composer, who, if not born in England, had 
resided in London for so long a time, that in lan- 
guage, habits, and associations, he was a thorough 

" On one occasion," savs Dr. Cox, "when oroins to the Vatican 
Library to visit Mezzofanti, I took with nie an English familVj 
who were most desirous of being introduced to him. Mezzofanti 
remonstrated good-humouredly with me lor briiigini^ people to 
see him, as if he were worthy of being visited, but he received 
our party with his habitual politeness. 

The genlieman whom I introduced, begged as a favour that 
he would tell him how many languages he could speak. 'I have 
heard many ditterent accounts,' he said, ' but will you tell nie 

After some hesitation, Alezzofanti answered, ' Well ! if you 
must know, I speak forty -five languages.' 

' Forty-five !' replied my friend. ' How, sir, have you possibly 
contrived to acquhre so many ?' 

' I cannot explain it,' said Mezzofanti. ' Of course God has given 
me this peculiar power: but if you wish to know how I preserve 
these languages, 1 can only say, that, when once I hear the 
meaning of a wordiu any language, I never forget it.' 

He then begged us to excuse him, and called one of the libra- 
rians to show us the principal curiosities of the library On our 
return, we found him seated with a young German artist, who, 
he told us, was going to Constantinople. ' I am teaching him 
Turkish before he goes,' he continued, 'and as he speaks modern 
Greek very well, I use that language as the means of my instruc- 
tion. I had the honour,' he subjoined, ' of giving some lessons on 
modern Greek to your poet, Lord Byron, when he was in 

" I should add," said Dr. Cox " that I frequently heard him 
speak of Byron, and that his criticisms upon his works, and his 
reflections on the peculiar characteristics of his poetry, would 
have been worthy of a place in a Review." 

While he thus professed, however, to speak forty- 


five hmgiiages, he took care, as in his similar conver- 
sation with Dr. Tholuck, to convey that his knowledge 
of some of them was much less perfect than of others. 
Nor did it remain stationary at this limit. Its 
progress, even while he resided at Bologna, had been 
steady, and tolerably uniform. But the increased 
facilities for the study which he enjoyed in Rome, 
enabled him to add more rapidly to his store. Cardi- 
nal Wiseman assures me, that, before he left Rome, 
Mezzofanti's reply to the inquiry as to the number 
of his languages, was that which has since become a 
sort of proverb, " Fifty, and Bolognese." Even as 
early as 1837, Mezzofanti himself, in his extempore 
reply to Dr. Wap's Dutch verses, as we have seen, 
used words to the same effect : — 

Mijne tong verbleef med vijftig taalen stoin, 

I have been anxious to obtain, on this interesting 
point, an authentic report from persons who enjoyed 
almost daily opportunities of intercourse with Mezzo- 
fanti at this period, for the purpose of testing more 
satisfactorily, the accuracy of a contemporary sketch 
of him, Avhicli appeared in a work of considerable 
pretensions, published in Germany, in 1837 — Fleck's 
"Scientific Tour,'' — which describes him, from popular 
report, as speaking " some thirty languages and 
dialects, but of course, not all with equal readiness." 
As M. Fleck is in many things, an echo of the super- 
cilious criticisms of those who, while they admitted 
in general terms the marvellous character of Mezzo- 
fanti's talent, contrived, nevertheless, to depreciate 


it in detail, it may be well to afford the reader an 
opportunity of judging it for himself.* 

" Of middle size and somewhat stooping in his gait," writes 
IVl. Fleck, " Mezzofanti's appearance is nevertheless agreeable 
and benevolent. Since he has been Prefect of the Vatican in 
Mai's stead, I have had occasion to see him daily. His talent 
is that of a linguist, not that of a philologist. One forenoon in 
the Vatican, he spoke modern Greek to a young man who came 
in, Hebrew with a rabbi or ' scriltore' of the library, Russian 
with a magnate who passed through to the mannscri])t rooms, 
Latin and German with me, Danish with a young Danish arch- 
aeologist who was present, English with the English, — Italian 
with many. German he speaks well, bat almost too softly, like 
a Hamburgber; Latin he does not speak particularly well, and 
his English is just as middling. There is something about him 
that reminds me of a parrot — he does not seem to abound in 
ideas; but his talent is the more deserving of admiration, that 
the Italians have great difficulties to cope with in learning a fo- 
reign language. He vvill always remain a wonderful phenomenon, 
if not a miracle in the dogmatic sense. It is said to have been 
observed, that he often repeats the same ideas in conversation. 
He was entirely dependant on Mai in his position in the Vatican, 
especially at the connnencement of his tenure of office, and man- 
ifested some weakness in this respect. He told me he bad learn- 
ed Russian at Bologna from a Pole, and so had been in danger 
of introducing Polonicisnis into his Russian. In the French 
wars, his visits to the hospitals gave him an excellent opportu- 
nity of seeing and conversing with men of different nations, and 
the march of the Austrians made him acquainted with the dialect 
of the gipsies. Thrice, he told mc, he has been dangerously ill, 
and in a kind of ' confusion of languages.' He is altogether 
a man of a sensitive nervous system, and much more decidedly 
and more pusillaniniously attached to Catholicism than Mai. 
He has never travelled, except to Rome and Naples ; and to 

• I have used the translation published in Mr. Watts's paper, re- 
storing, however, a few sentences which were there omitted. 


Naples he went to study Chinese at the institute for the educa- 
tion of natives of China as missionaries, and there he fell dan- 
gerously ill. He seeks the society of foreigners very eagerly, in 
order to converse with every one in his own language. As a special 
favourite of the Pope, he enlivens his holiness's after-dinner hours 
(Verdaungs-stunden), and is often invited to him in the after- 
noon: by his manifold acquirements and the winning urbanity of 
his manners, he seems as if born for the society of a court. He 
has made himself popular among the learned foreigners who 
visit the Vatican, by permitting them to continue their labours 
in the library during certain days after the beginning of the 
holidays, on which the library had ordinarily been closed with a 
view to the adjustment and supervision of the MSS. His pi'e- 
dilection for acquiring foreign idioms is so strong that he ob- 
serves and imitates the provincial dialects and accents. He has 
cari'ied this so far, that, for example, he can distinguish the Ham- 
burgh and Hanoverian German very well. Even of Wendish he is 
not ignorant. This is, indeed, a gift of no very high order ; but 
it is a gift nevertheless, and, when exercised in its more daz- 
zling points of practice, sets one in amazement. Mezzofanti un- 
derstands this well. The Italians admire this distinguished and 
unassuming man, as the eighth wonder of the world, and believe 
his reputation to be not only European, but Asiatic and African 
also. He is said to speak some thirty languages and dialects ; 
but of course not all with equal readiness. The Persian missi- 
onary, Sebastiani, who, in Napoleon's time, played an important 
political part in Persia, was eagerly sought after by Mezzofanti 
when in Rome, that he might learn modern Persian from him ; 
Sebastiani, however, showed himself disinclined to his society, 
which pained Mezzofanti much. Mezzofanti has been called the 
modern Mithridates, and thought very highly of altogether. In 
an intellectual point of view, many learned men, even Italians, 
are certainly above him : his reading appears at times shallow, 
owing to its having been so scattered, and it has occurred that he 
has often repeated the same thing to strangers ; but his great and 
peculiarlinguistic talent,which seems as it were to spring from some 
innate sense, cannot be denied ; his good nature and politeness to 


the students who frequent the Vatican are very great; and I ain 
therefore unable to comprehend how Blume (Iter Iialicuin,1.153,) 
can speak of the opposite experience of learned travellers during 
hisresidence at Bologna. 

Mezzofanti is fond of perpetuating his memory in the albums 
of his friends. He wrote in mine : — 

"'E^-^irat avioui'xoig XaQ^aiMc, 'isyj/,Tov ^/xao, 
O't ds 'jTi^l X^jytii rroXKa iJjb\,oZ(Si iJ.dr7,'j. 

"Ev Ti 601 hor^vri sffri r,<Sv/iri.''* 

I shall leave the greater part of these strictures, 
from their very generality, to be judged by the facts 
and statements actually recorded in these pages ;. 
merely observing that on all questions which involve 
the depth and accuracy of Mezzofanti's knowledge 
of particular subjects, tliose only are entitled to speak 
with authority, who, like Bucheron, Libri, and others 
elsewhere referred to, took the trouble to test it by 
actual inquiry. It will be enough to say that, where- 
ever M. Fleck has ventured into details, his criticisms 
are palpably unjust. 

For instance, even at Eorae, with all its proverbial 
fastidiousness, the singular beauty of Mezzofanti's 
Latin conversation which Fleck describes as " not 
particularly good," was freely and universally ad- 
mitted ; and Bucheron, the Piedmontese professor who 
came to Bologna prepossessed ^vith the idea that 
Mezzofanti's Latin scholarship was meagre and super- 
ficial, was obliged to confess, after a long and search- 
ing conversation, that his acquaintance with the Latin 
language and literature was as exact as it was com- 

* riecli's Wissenschaftliche Raise, I. p.p. 93 — 5. 


In like manner M. Fleck takes upon him to pro- 
nounce that Mezzofanti's English was "just as mid- 
dling" as his Latin. Now I need hardly recall the 
testimonies of Mr. Harford, Stewart Rose, Byron, 
Lady ]\Iorgan, Lady Blessington, and every other 
English traveller who conversed with him, as complete- 
ly refuting this depreciatory estimate. The truth is, 
that most of the English and Irish visitors with 
whom I have spoken, have agreed with me in consi- 
dering that, in his manner of speaking English, the 
absence of all foreign peculiarities was so complete 
as to render it diSicult, in a short conversation, to 
detect that he was a foreigner. " One day," Cardinal 
Wiseman relates, " Mezzofanti then a prelate, visited 
me, and shortly after an Irish gentleman called 
Avho had arrived that moment in Rome. I was 
called out, and left them together for some time. 
On my returning, Mezzofanti took leave. I asked 
the other who he thought that gentleman was. He 
replied, looking surprised at the question, ^ An 
English Priest, I suppose.' " 

On another occasion, about the same period, the 
late Dr. Baines, Vicar Apostolic of the Western dis- 
trict, having been present at one of the polyglot ex- 
hibitions in the Propaganda, and having there wit- 
nessed the extraordinary versatility of Mezzofanti's 
powers, returned with him after the exhibition. " We 
dined together," said Dr. Baines, " and I entreated 
him, having been in the tower of Babel all the morn- 
ing, to let us stick to English for the rest of the day. 
Accordingly, we did stick to English, which he spoke 


as fluently as we do, and with the same accuracy, 
not only of grammar but of idiom. His only trip 
was in saying, ' That was before the time when I re- 
member," instead of ' before my time.' Once, too, I 
thought him mistaken in the pronunciation of a 
Avord. But when I returned to England, I found 
that my way was either provincial or old-fashioned, 
and that I was wrong and he was right."* 

Nor was this fluency iu speaking English confined 
to the ordinary topics of conversation, or to the more 
common-place words of the language. His vocabu- 
lary was as extensive and as various as it was select. 
A curious example of this, not only as regards Eng- 
lish but also in reference to German, was told to me 
by Cardinal Wiseman. 

One broiling day he and Mr. Monckton Milnes 
were walking in company with Mezzofanti across 
the scorching pavement of the Piazza SS. Apostoli. 
They were speaking German at the time. 

" Well !" said INIr. Milnes, utterly overcome by the 
heat and glare, " this is what you may call a — what 
is the German," he added, turning to Dr. Wiseman, 
" for ' sweltering V *' 

" * Schwiilig^ of course," suggested Mezzofanti, 
without a moment's pause ! 

I have heard several similar anecdotes illustrating 
the minuteness of his acquaintance with other lan- 
guages; and when it is remembered, that his stock of 
words was in great measure drawn from books,and those 
generally the classics of their respective languages, it 

* Miss Mitford's Recollections of a Literarv Life, II. p. 203. 


need hardly be considered matter of surprise, that, 
as, in English, Lady Morgan found "his turn of phrase 
and peculiar selection of words to be those of the 
" Spectator," so other foreigners have been struck by 
finding an Italian model his conversational style upon 
the highest and most refined standards in their res- 
pective literatures. One instance may sufiice as a 
specimen. Professor Carlson of the university of 
Upsala, who was for a considerable time engaged 
in the Vatican Library, in examining the papers of 
Queen Christina, and was thus thrown for weeks into 
constant communication with Mezzofanti, assured my 
friend Mr. Wackerbarth of the same university, 
that Mezzofanti spoke the language perfectly — •' quite 
like a native ■" and that not only as regards the words, 
but also as regards the accent and rhythm of the 
language, Avhich is very difficult. The Swedish and 
Danish languages are very much alike, though difier- 
ing widely in accent and musical character. 
The Professor declared, that Mezzofanti was perfectly 
at home in both, as well as regards their affinities as 
their diffisrences. He added, that if there were any 
fault to find with Mezzofanti's speaking of Swedish, 
it was perhaps a trifle too grammatically accurate : 
if that can be considered as a fault. This may per- 
haps be better understood when explained, that in 
Swedish the difference between the spoken and written 
language, is perhaps more than in most languages, 
many words being inflected in the written, but not in 
the spoken language. Thus tlie verb "kan," (can,) is in 
the plural, "kanna ;" but in conversation the plural is 


" kiin," the same as the singular. Now, from the 
anecdote already told regarding young Uttini,* it 
appears that Mezzofanti was almost entirely self- 
taught in Swedish ; and I infer from the catalogue 
of his library that his course of Swedish reading 
lay exclusively among the purest classics of that 
language. I am informed by Mr. Wackerbarth, 
that Count Oxenstjerna, son of the classical Swedish 
translator of Milton and Dante, who conversed with 
him at Eome, found him thoroughly familiar with 
his father's \vorks,f and in general critically acquainted 
with all the masters of Swedish style. 

Indeed there is hardly any circumstance conuected 
with this extraordinary gift more calculated to ex- 
cite wonder than the extent and accuracy of his 
acquaintance with the various literatures of the 
languages to which he had' applied himself. The 
fact is attested by so many witnesses that it is impossi- 
ble to doubt it. Numerous instances have been 
already cited ; but I cannot pass from this period of 
his life without adding a few others, chiefly regarding 
oriental languages, taken almost at random from 
many independent testimonies which have been com- 
municated to me by persons who enjoyed his in- 
timacy during the early years of his residence at 

In a commission for the revision of the liturgical 

• See Supra, pp. 143.4. 
f The Catalogue (p. 33,) contains the complete edition, 5 vols., 
8vo., Stockholm, 1826 ; also the works of Kcllgren, Leopold, and 
others. It also comprises the Frithiofs-Saga, and other early 
Scandinavian remains. 


books of the Armenian rite appointed by Pope 
Gregory XVL, he was associated with a native Ar- 
menian scholar, Father Arsenius Angiarakian, Abbot 
of the Monastery of St. Gregory the Illuminator. 
This learned ecclesiastic, in a letter dated August 15, 
1855, assures me that during the frequent opportu- 
nities of observation which a literary inquiry of 
such exceeding delicacy afforded, he was astonished 
(ho dovuto stupire) at the profound knowledge of the 
ancient language of Armenia, exhibited by his asso- 
ciate. He adds that Mezzofanti " spoke the vulgar 
Armenian with perfect freedom, and in all its dialects." 
Mgr Hurmuz, the Armenian Archbishop of Sirace, 
in a letter of May 24th, in the same year, attests that 
Mezzofanti's Armenian scholarship " was not con- 
fined to the knowledge of the language, ancient and 
modern ; he also knew the history of the Armenian 
nation, and of science and art among them, together 
with their periods of progress and decay." 

Father Arsenius frequently introduced oriental 
visitors, especially Turks and Persians, to Mezzoflinti. 
Ahmed Fethi Pasha, with his Secretary, Sami Effendi, 
was presented to him on his way to London in 1836. 
After along interview he declared to Father Arsenius, 
that "Mezzofanti was not only perfectly at home in 
the vocabulary, the structure, and the pronunciation, 
both of Turkish and of Persian, but thoroughly 
and profoundly versed (possedeva per eccellenza) in 
both literatures — being master of the great classic 
prose writers and poets of both, and their literary 
history." He received the same assurances as to 


both languages, at various times, from Kedschid 
Pasha, Ali Pasha, Fuad Effendi, and Shekib EfFendi. 

A native Syrian whom M Antoine d'Abbadie met 
in Rome in 1839, assured him that " Mezzofanti's 
knowledge of Arabic and fluency in speaking it were 
both equally admirable."* 

Speaking of the literature of Greece, Monsignor 
Missir,the learned Greek Archbishop of Irenopoliswho 
has for many years resided at Rome, declares(in a letter 
of May 21st, 1855,) his belief that " Mezzoflmti was as 
fully master of the ancient Greek, as he Avas of Latin 
or Italian, and that there was scarce a Greek author, 
ancient or modern, sacred or profane, whom he had 
not read." The abate Pietro Matranga,f a Greek of 
Sicily, and professor of Greek in the Greek College of 
St. Athanasius, confirms this impression to a great 
extent. He states (August 17th, 1855) that "in 
examining the students of the Greek College, (as was 
his custom for many years) in the classical authors, 
both the orators nnd the tragedians, Mezzofanti never 
had occasion to take a book into his hands ; being able 
on the passage being indicated by the professor, to re- 
peat it from memory." 

A Polish priest named Ozarowski, stated as much 
for Polish literature to Dr. Cox. 

Nay, even in such an out-of-thc-v^ay literature as 

• Letter of M. D'Abbadie, May 6, 1855. 
t The Abate Matranga is often mentioned with high praise by 
Cardinal Mai in his prefaces. He is favourably known to Greek 
scholars besides by his Anccdota Graca, 2 vols. 8vo., Rome, 1850, 
consisting of the Allegorice Humericm of Tzetzes, and many other 
remains of ancient scholiast commentators upon Homer, and of 
some unpublished Anacreontic poems of the Byzantine period. 


that of Sicily, the same abate Matranga assures me 
that he was equally versed. " He delighted," says the 
abate, " in repeating from memory the poetry of the 
Sicilian poet, Giovanni Meli,"* a writer who although 
of the highest fame among his countrymen, is hardly 
known even by name outside of his native island. 

I cannot close, however, without saying that I 
have not found any evidence of his having being 
equally familiar with another exceedingly important 
literature of the East — the ancient Sy riac. Vague state- 
ments I have heard in abundance; but no one to whom 
I have had access could speak with certainty ; and 
Signor Matteo Schiahuan, professor of that language 
in the Propaganda, considered him but moderately 
versed therein, (una mediocre cognizione.) This will 
appear the more difficult of explanation, as the Syriac 
department of his catalogue is tolerably extensive, 
and is abundantly supplied with at least th« elemen- 
tary books of that language. 

* Moore (Diary, III. p. 183,) mentions him as "the Abate Meli, 
a Sicilian poet, of whom he had never heard before." He is, never- 
theless, a voluminous writer of pastorals, sonnets, ballads, and odes, 
sacred and profane. His largest poem, however, is an epic of twelve 
cantos on the History of Don Quixote, in ottava rima. After a little 
trouble it may be read without much difficulty by any one acquainted 
with the ordinary Italian, and is highly amusing. Meli's works are 
collected into one vol. royal 8vo., Palermo, 1846. 



One evening about this time, Dr. Wiseman, meeting 
Mezzofanti in the Piazza di Spagna, inquired where 
he was going. 

"To the Propaganda," he replied; "I have to 
give a lesson there." 

" In what language ?" asked Dr. Wiseman. 

" In Californian," said Mezzofanti. " I am teaching 
it to the Californian youths whom we have there." 

" Californian !" exchiimed his friend, " From whom 
can you possibly have learned that out-of-the-way 
tongue ?" 

" From, themselves ^^^ replied Mezzofanti : " and now 
I am teaching it to them grammatically." 

This interesting anecdote illustrates another cuii- 
ous phase of Mezzofanti's marvellous faculty — the 
manner in which he dealt with a language, not only 
new to himself, but entirely unwritten, unsystema- 
tized, and, in a word, destitute of all the ordinary 
aids and appliances of study. 


Two native Californians, children of one of the 
many Indian tribes of that peninsula, were sent to 
Rome to be educated at the Propaganda. One of 
these died not very long after his arrival ; the other, 
whose native name was Tac, and who exhibited much 
more talent than his companion, lived in the Propa- 
ganda for about three years, but eventually sunk under 
the effects of the Iloman climate, and perhaps, of the 
confinement and unwonted habits of collegiat elife. 
To these youths, from the day of their arrival, Mezzo- 
fanti attached himself with all the interest which a 
new language always possessed for him. * 

The Indians of the Californian peninsula are 
broken up into several independent tribes, the prin- 
cipal of which are three in number, the Picos, the 
"VVaicuros, and the Laymones. Their languages are 
as various as their subdivisions of race. In the days 
of the Spanish missionaries, there could hardly be 
found any two or three missions in which the same 
dialect was spoken ;f insomuch that the fathers of 
these missions have never succeeded in doing for the 
native language, what they have done for most of the 
other languages of Northern and Central America — 
reducing it to an intelligible grammatical system. J 
Upon Mezzofanti, therefore, in his intercourse with 
these youths, devolved all the trouble of discovering 
the grammatical structure of the Californian language, 
and of reducing it to rules. It was a most curious 
process. He began by making his pupils recite the 

* See account in Civilta Cattolica (by F. Bresciani) vii., p. 569. 
t See Adelung's Mithridates, vol. iii, part iii, p. 180. 
X Ibid, p. 187. 


Lord's Prayer, until he picked up first the general 
meaning, and afterwards the particular sounds, and 
what may be called the rhythm of the language. The 
next step was to ascertain and to classify the parti- 
cles, both affixes and suffixes ; to distinguish verbs 
from nouns, and substantives from adjectives ; to 
discover the principal inflexions of both. Having 
once mastered the preliminaries, his power of general- 
ising seemed rather to be an instinct than an exercise 
of the reasoning faculty. With him the knowledge 
of words led, almost without an effort, to the power 
of speaking. 

I have been assured by the Rev. James Doyle, who 
was a student of the Propaganda at the time, and 
who had frequent opportunities of witnessing Mezzo- 
fanti's conversation with these youths, that his 
success was complete, at least so far as could be 
judged from external appearance — from his fluency, 
his facility of speech, and all the other outward indi- 
cations of familiarity.* Some time before the arrival 
of these Californians, and soon after Mezzofanti's 
coming to Rome, Bishop Fenwick, of Cincinnati, had 

• Since the above was written, a case somewhat similar has 
been mentioned to me by the Rev Dr. Murray of Dublin, also a 
student of the Propaganda. A young Mulatto of the Dutch West 
Indian Island of Curafoa, named Enrico Gomez, arrived about a 
fortnight before Epiphany, 1845. He spoke no language except 
the *' Nigger Dutch," of his native island. Mezzofanti took him 
into his hands, and before the day of Academy (the Sunday after 
Epiphany) he had not only established a mode of communication 
with him, but had learned his language, and even composed for him 
a short poetical piece, which Gomez recited at the Academy ! A 
third case, of three Albanian youths, is mentioned in the Civilta 
Cattolica, VII. p.571. 



sent for education to the Propaganda two North 
American Indians, youths of the Ottawa tribe, then 
residing near Mackinaw, at the upper end of Lake 
Michegan. The elder of these, named Augustine 
Hamelin, was a half-breed, being the son of a French 
father ; the younger, whose Indian name was Macco- 
£?o&^?2^6'Z,("the Blackbird,") was of pure Ottawa blood.* 
Unhappily, as almost invariably happens in similar 
circumstances, the Indian, although a youth of much 
promise and very remarkable piety, pined away in 
the College, and eventually died from the bursting of 
a blood-vessel. Augustin Hamelin, the elder, spent 
a considerable time in the Propaganda, where he stu- 
died with great success, but in the end, being 
seized with blood-spitting, the authorities of the Col- 
lege, apprehensive of a recurrence of the same disease 
which had befallen Maccodobenesi, judged it more 
prudent to send him back to America. Inconse- 
quence, he rejoined his tribe in the year 1835, or 
1836. Mrs. Jameson, who in her " Eambles among 
the Red Men," speaks of the Koman Catholic Ottawa 
converts in general, as "in appearance, dress, in- 
telligence, industry, and general civilization, superior 
to the converts of all other communions," f refers in 
particular to '' a well-looking young man, dressed in 
European fashion and in black, of mixed blood, French 
and Indian, who had been sent, when young, to be 
educated at the Propaganda, and was lately come to 

• These youths are mentioned in " Shea's Catholic Missions 
among the Indian Tribes." (p. 387.) a work of exceeding interest 
and most carefull)' executed. 


settle as a teacher and iuterpreter among his people."* 
This youth, there can be no doubt, was Hamelin. 
Having come soon afterwards to Washington, as one 
of a deputation from his tribe to negociate a treaty with 
the United States Government, he produced a great 
sensation by his high education, his great general know- 
ledge, and especially his skill in languages ; and on a 
subsequent occasion, in 1840, Bishop O'Connor, of 
Pittsburgh, who had known him in the Propaganda, 
and to whom I am indebted for these particulars re- 
garding hira,encountered him in Philadelphia, engaged 
in a similar mission to the American Government. 

The well-known Indian philologer, M. du Ponceau, 
met him about the same time, and speaks with much 
praise of his intelligence and ability. It was from 
Hamelin that M. du Ponceau obtained the informa- 
tion regarding the Ottawa language v/hich he has used 
in the comparative vocabulary of Indian languages, 
appended to his Memoire sur le Systeme Grammati- 
cale des Langues Indiennes.^ 

AVhether Mezzofanti learned the Ottawa dialect from 
these youths I have not positively ascertained. Indeed 
it is difficult to say at what precise time he first direc* 
ted his attention to the Indian languages of North 
America. He certainly knew something of them before 
he left Bologna. He read for M. Libri, in 1830, a 
book in one of the Indian languages. Prince Lewis 
Lucian Bonaparte too, in a communication with 

• Sketches in Canada, p. 214 — 15. 

f See his Memoire sur le Systeme Grammaticale, p. 97, also p. 
306, and in the appendix passim. 


which he has honoured me, mentions a conversa- 
tion with him at Bologna, in which he spoke of these 
Indian hmguages, and alluded to one in particular in 
which the letter B is wanting ; "not," as he explained 
to the Prince, " on account of any peculiarity in the 
genius of the language which excludes this sound, 
but because the Indians of this tribe wear a heavy 
ornament suspended by a ring from the under lip, 
which by dragging the under lip downwards, and 
thus preventing its contact with the upper, renders 
it impossible for them to produce the sound of B or 
any other labial." It is probable therefore, that even 
before he first met Hamelin and his companion, 
Mezzofanti had already learnt something of these 
Indian languages ; and as, in his conversation with 
Dr. Kip, some years later, the only languages which 
he mentioned as known to him are the Chippewa, the 
Delaware, and the Algonquin, it is most likely that it 
was the first of these — a variety of which is spoken by 
the Ottawas — that formed his medium of conversation 
with these youths. On this point. Dr. O'Connor is 
unable to speak from his own knowledge. 

The Indian language which he knew best, how- 
ever, was the Algonquin, the parent of a large pro- 
geny of dialects ; and this he learnt not from the 
natives, but from Father Thavenet, of the congrega- 
tion of St. Sulpice, for many years a missionary 
among that tribe, and perhaps more profoundly skilled 
in their language * than any European scholar 
before his time. Of the Algonquin Mezzofanti became 

* See Du Ponceau. Meiuoiro, p. 294 — 5. 


completely master — a success which can only be ap- 
preciated by those who imderstand the peculiar,* and 
to a European entirely novel structure of these 

But whatever uncertainty may exist as to the 
manner in which he acquired these particular lan- 
guages, there are many others with regard to which 
it cannot be doubted that he turned most industri- 
ously to account, during these years, the many re- 
sources supplied by the Propaganda, and that to this 
noble institution he Avas indebted for many of his 
later acquisitions. 

It may perhaps be remembered, that, when Dr. 
Tholuck saw him in 1830, and changed quite suddenly 
to Arabic in the midst of a conversation in German, 
although he replied in that language "without hesi- 
tation and quite correctly," yet he " spoke very slowly, 
and, as it were, composing the words one with 
another." Now Dr. O'Connor informs me, that, from 
the day of his first coming to the Propaganda, he "fas- 
tened upon" an Egyptian student named Sciahuan,with 
whom he conversed continually in Arabic ; and that 

* Not only are the inflexions entirely different from those of 
the languages to which we are accustomed, but the very use of in- 
flexions is altogether peculiar. For example, in the Chippewa lan- 
guage there is an inflexion of nouns, similar to our conjugation of 
verbs, by which all the states of the noun are expressed. Thus tiie 
word ma7i can be inflected for person, to signify, '7 am a man,' 'thou 
art a man,' 'he is a man ;' &c. So also the inflexions of the verb 
transitive vary according to the gender of the object — See Mrs. 
Jameson, p. 196. Schoolcraft ascribes the same character to the en- 
tire Algonquin family— See Du Ponceiiu, pp. 130 — 5. 


he also undertook (thus enjoying an opportunity of 
practice in two languages at once,) to instruct in it 
a young Maltese, likewise a student of the college. 
With what success this twofold practice was attended 
may be inferred from the fact, already recorded, that, 
a few years later, when M. d'Abbadie was in Eome (in 
1839,) he was told by a native Syrian that Mezzo- 
fanti's fluency, as well as his knowledge of Arabic, 
were both admirable.* 

Another language which Mezzofanti, in 1839, told 
Dr. Tholuck he had studied, but in which Dr. Tho- 
luck had no means of trying him, was the Albanese. 
The late M. Matranga mentioned that he also spoke 
this language with some Albanian students who 
were in the Propaganda, soon after his arrival in 
Eome : but that, as they were from upper Albania, 
and spoke a corrupt half Turkish dialect of Albanese, 
he conversed but rarely with them. I may add, how- 
ever, that Signor Agostino Ricci who came to the 
Propaganda in 1846, assured me, in a note written 
two years since,f that, between 1846, and the Car- 
dinal's death in 1849, he had " repeatedly conversed 
with him in Albanese, and that he spoke it very well." 
(assai bene.) 

ForArmenian, Turkish, and Greek, the Propaganda 
also supplied abundant resources. The students, 
Hassun and Musabini — the first, it will be recollected, 
whom Mezzofanti chanced to meet at his earliest visit — 
ever afterwards continued his especial favourites 
and friends. With the former he always spoke in Tur- 

• Letter of M. d'Abbadie, dated May 4, 1855. 
t Letter of May 23rd, 1855. 


kish, with the latter in Greek. A youth named Ti- 
grani, supplied him with practice in Armenian ; but to 
this language, which he enjoyed other opportunities 
of cultivating, he seldom devoted much of the time 
which he spent in the Propaganda. It was the same 
for most of the European languages which he con- 
stantly met outside. In the college, for the most 
part, he confined himself to those which he had no 
means of cultivating elsewhere. 

Without wearying the reader, however, with fur- 
ther details, I shall transcribe (although it regards a 
later period,) an interesting letter received from the 
Rev. Charles Fernando, the missionary apostolic at the 
Point of Galle in Ceylon, which enters briefly, but yet 
very fully and distinctly, into the particulars of the 
languages which IVtezzofanti used to speak in the 
Propaganda, during the writer's residence there as a 
student. M. Fernando is a native of Colombo in 
the Island of Ceylon. He came to Rome early in 
the year 1843, and remained until after the death of 
Cardinal Mezzofanti. 

"When I left Ceylon for Rome," he writes, August 29, 1855, 
"I knew but very little of the Cingalese language; a very small 
vocabulary of domestic words, and a facility in reading in Cin- 
galese characters, without understanding the written language, 
was the full stock of my knowledge when I reached the college 
of the Propaganda. From such a master you might be disposed 
to augur badly of the scholar. Still it was not so. 

A few days after my arrival in college, I was introduced to his 
Eminence in his polyglot library and study room in the college 
itself. Cardinal Mezzofanti knew nothing of the Cingalese 


before I went to the Propaganda, yet in a (ew days he was 
able to assist me to put together a short plain discourse for our 
academical exhibition of the Epii)hany. 

My own knowledge of the language, nevertheless, was not at 
that time such as to warrant my saying that he knew the Cin- 
galese, or that he spoke it well. This, however, lean assert confi- 
dently, that, after a few conversations with me, (I don't recollect 
having been with him above a dozen times for the purpose,) 
he thoroughly entered into the nature and system of the Cingal- 
ese language. 

Among the other languages of Hindostan, I can only speak 
as to one. In my time there were no students who spoke the 
Mahralta, Canarese, or Malayalim ; but I heard him speak Hin- 
dostani with a student who is now missionary apostolic in Agra, 
where he was brought up, the Rev. William Keegau. 

The most remarkable characteristic of the Cardinal as a lin- 
guist was his power of passing from one language to another 
without the least effort. I recollect having often seen him speak 
to a whole Camerata of the Propaganda studenLS,jaddressing each 
in his own language or dialect in rapid succession, and with such 
ease, fluency, and spirit, and so much of the character and tone 
of each language that it used to draw a burst of merry laughter 
from the company ; every one delighted to have heard his own 
language spoken by the amiable Cardinal with its characteristic 
precision. I may mention the names of many with whom the 
Cardinal thus conversed; with Moses Ngau (who died in Pegu 
not long ago) in the Peguan language ; with Zaccaria Cohen in 
Abyssinian ; with Gabriel, another Abyssinian, in the Amarina 
dialect; with Sciata,an Egyptian, in the Coptic ; with Hollas in Ar- 
menian ; with Churi* in Arabic; Avith Barsciu in Syriac; with Abdo 

• The Signer Churi mentioned bj M. Fernando is the author 
of a curious and interesting volume of travels — " The Sea Nile, 
the Desert and Nigritia," published in 1853, Being obliged by ill 
health to leave the Propaganda, and unwilling for many reasons to 
return to his native Lebanon, he settled in London as a teacher of 
oriental languages. One of his pupils in Arabic, Captain Peel, en- 
gaged him in 1830, as his interpreter in a tour of Egypt, Syria, and 


in Arabico-uialtuse, (ihe Mallese speak a mixture of Arabic and 
Italian); iu Taiuulic with Pedro Royapeii, (of this, however, I anj 
not so sure) ; with Leang and Mong in Chinese; with Jakopski and 
Arabagiski in Bulgarian ; with Beriscia and Baddovani in Al- 
banian. With regard to Malay, Tibetan, and Mantchu, I can- 
not bear witness, as there were no students who spoke those dia- 
lects in my lime. As for the European languages, I can assure 
you that I heard the Cardinal speak a great variety, Polish, 
Hungarian,* Rhetian, Swedish, Danish, German, Russian, &c." 

The caution with which M. Fernando speaks on 
the subject of Cingalese, as well as of the rest of the 
Indian languages, makes his testimony in other res- 
pects more valuable, inasmuch as I had frequently 
heard it said in Eome that the Cardinal spoke "Hin- 
dostani and all the dialects of India." It needed, 
however, but a moment's recollection of the number 
and variety of these dialects, (several of which till 
very recently were almost unknown even by 
name to Europeans,) to assure me that this was a 
great exaggeration. I am inclined to think that his 
knowledge of Indian languages lay entirely among 
those which are derived from the Sanscrit. The 
notion of Colebrook and the philologers of his time, 
that all the languages of India are of Sanscrit origin, 
is now commonly abandoned. It is found that the 
languages of the Deccan have but little of the San- 
scrit element ; and Mr. Caldwell, in his recent com- 

the Holy Land, and afterwards, in 1851, in an expedition to the 
interior of Africa, which forms the subject of Signor Churl's volume. 
* I have been assured by M. Bauer, a student of the Propaganda 
in 1855, that he often conversed with the Cardinal in Hungarian, 
during the years 1847 and 1848. 


parative grammar of the South-Indian Languages,* 
has enumerated under the general designation of Dra- 
vidian, nine un-Sanscritic languages of this region 
of India, among which the best known are the Tamil, 
Telugu, Canarese, and Malayalim. There seems 
no reason to believe that Mezzofanti was familiarly- 
acquainted with any one of these four, or indeed with 
any member of Dravidian family, unless the Guzar- 
attee can be included therein. 

M. Fernando's hesitation regarding his knowledge 
of Tamil, induced me to inquire of Rev. Dr. Mac 
Auliffe, lately a Missionary at Madras, who, after 
spending several years in that Presidency, had 
entered the Propaganda, and who knew the Cardinal 
at the same time with M. Fernando. Dr. Mac 
Auliffe informs me, that his eminence did not know 
Tamil. The Indian languages which he knew, accord- 
ing to Dr. MacAuliffe, were Hindostani and Mahratta ; 
that he was acquainted with at least the first of these 
there seems no possible doubt, both from M. Fernando's 
testimony, and from that of Count Lackersteen of Cal- 
cutta, a native East Indian gentleman, who assures mef 
that he conversed with him in Hindostani, in 1843-4. 
As to the Mahratta dialect, I have not (beyond Dr. 
MacAuliffe's assurance) been able to obtain any 
direct information ; but Mr. Eyoob, an Armenian mer- 
chant of Calcutta, testifies to the Cardinal's acquain- 

* A comparative Grammar of the Dravidian, or Soutli-Indian 
Family of Languages. By the Rev. R. Caldwell, B.A., London, 

f In a letter dated Oalcutta, Septeniher 20, 1853. 


tance with another Indiau hmguage — the Guzarattee. 
Mr.Eyoob saw the Cardinal in the same year with Count 
Lackersteen, and writes* that, when he was intro- 
duced to his eminence as a native of Bombay, the 
Cardinal at once addressed him in Guzarattee. Mr. 
Eyoob adds, that the Cardinal also spoke with him in 
Armenian and in Portuguese, in both of which lan- 
guages his accent, vocabulary, and grammatical accu- 
racy, were beyond all exception. Count Lacker- 
steen's letter fully confirms so much of this state- 
ment as regards Portuguese. The Count also spoke 
with Mezzofanti in Persian : but, as he does not 
profess to be a profound Persian scholar, his testimony 
on this head is not of so much value. 

By far the most remarkable, however, of Mezzo- 
fanti's successes in the Propaganda was his acquisi- 
tion of Chinese. The difficulty of that language for 
Europeans has long been proverbial, f and it argued 
no ordinary courage in a scholar now on the verge 
of his sixtieth year to enter regularly upon such a 
study. His first progress at Naples, before he was 
interrupted by the severe illness which there seized 
him, has been already described. It was not for a 
considerable time after his return, that he was ena- 
bled to resume the attempt systematically. A wish 

• Letter dated Calcutta, September 22, 1853. 

■|- See a most amusing account by Pere Bourgeois, in the 
Lettres Edifiantes, of his first Chinese Sermon, which D'Israeli has 
translated. An interesting exposition of the difficulties of the 
Chinese language is found in Griiber's Relazione di Cina, Florence, 


was expressed by the authorities of the Propaganda 
that a select number of the students of the Naples col- 
lege should be sent to Rome for the completion of 
their theological studies. Three young Chinese had 
already visited the Propaganda while Mezzofanti was 
still in Bologna, one of whom, named Pacifico Yu, of- 
fered himself to the Cardinal Prefect, as a missionary 
to the Corea, at a period when the attempt was al- 
most a certain road to martyrdom : but it was not 
until the year 1835-6 that the design of adopting 
a few of the Neapolitan students into the college of 
the Propaganda was actually carried out. Don 
Raffaelle Umpierres, for many years Procurator of the 
mission at Macao, was soon afterwards appointed 
their prefect and professor ; and under his auspices 
and with the assistance of the young Chinese, Mez- 
zofanti resumed the study with new energy. His 
success is admitted on all hands to have been almost 
unexampled. Certainly it has never been surpassed 
by any European not resident in China. In the 
year 1843, I was myself present while he conversed 
with two youths, named Leang and Mong, and 
although my evidence cannot extend beyond these ex- 
ternal signs, I can at least bear witness to the fluency 
with which he spoke, and the ease and spirit with 
which he seemed to sustain the conversation. But 
his complete success is placed beyond all doubt by an 
attestation forwarded to me, by the abate Umpierres, 
the Chinese Professor,* already named, who declares 
that he " frequently conversed with the Cardinal in 
Chinese, from the year 1837, up to the date of 

• Dated Rome, May 23, 1853, 


bis death, and that he not only spoke the mandarin 
Chinese,* but understood other dialects of the lan- 

Mezzofanti himself freely confessed the exceeding 
difficulty which he had found in mastering this lan- 
guage. It cost him, as be assured Father Arsenius 
Angiarakian, four months- of uninterrupted study. 
Speaking once with Cardinal Wiseman of bis method 
of linguistic study, be said that the " ear and not the 
eye was for him the ordinary medium through which 
language was conveyed ;" and he added, that the true 
origin of the difficulty which be bad felt in learning 
Chinese, was not so much the novelty of its words and 
forms, as the fact that, departing from the analogy 
of other languages, it disconcerted the pre-arranged 
system on which he had theretofore proceeded; it 
has an eye-language distinct from the ear-language, 
Avbicb he was obliged to make an especial study. 

It is worth while to mention that the Cardinal 
successfully accomplished in a short time what cost 
the missionaries in China, with all their advantages of 
position, many years of labour, having actually 
preached to the Chinese students in the Propaganda, 
on occasion of one of the spiritual retreats which are 
periodically observed in ecclesiastical seminaries. 

• What Europeans call the Mandarin language is by the 
Chinese designated Houan — Hoa, or universal language. It is spo- 
ken by instructed persons throughout the Empire, although with a 
marked difference of pronunciation in the northern and the southern 
provinces. Besides this, there are dialects peculiar to the provinces 
of Kouang-tong, and Fo-kien, as well as several minor dialects. See 
Hue's Chinese Empire, I. p. 319 — 20. 


It must not be supposed, however, that, the Pro* 
paganda was his only school of languages. Not un- 
frequently, also, missionaries from various parts of 
the world, who repaired to the Propaganda on the 
affairs of their several missions, supplied a sort of sup- 
plement to the ordinary resources of the institution. 
In this way a German missionary, Father Brunner, 
(now, I believe, superior of a religious congregation 
in the United States,) initiated him in the languages 
of Western Africa. Father Brunner had been for a 
time a missionary in Congo. On his arrival in 
Rome, Mezzofanti placed himself in communication 
with him ; and Cardinal jReisach, (who was at that 
time Rector of the Propaganda,) states that he soon 
progressed so far as to be able to keep up a conversation 
in the language. The general language of Congo 
comprises many distinct branches, the Loango, the 
Kakongo, the Mandongo, the Angolese, and the Cam- 
ba.* Of these Mezzofanti applied himself especially to 
the Angolese, in which he more than once composed 
pieces for recitation at the academical exhibition of 
the Epiphany. Two of these, which will be found in 
the appendix, have been submitted to the criticism of 
Mr. Consul Brande, long a resident at Loango, who 
pronounces them " to exhibit a correct knowledge of 
the Angolese or Biinda language. "f 

* See Adelung, Mithridates, III. part I. pp. 207—24. 

f Lettei' of February 7, 1857. I had submitted these pieces to Dr. 
Livingston ; but as he, having been ill all the time he remained in 
Angola, had never learned that language, he was good enough to 
send the papei's to Mr. Brande. The latter, besides kindly commu- 
nicating to me his own opinion regarding them, has taken the trouble 
to forward them to a friend at Loando, to be submitted to an intelli- 
gent native in whose judgment Mr. Brande has full confidence ; but 
as yet (March 15, 1858,) no reply has reached me. 


I may add to the number of those with whom he 
was accustomed to speak oriental languages, two 
others mentioned to me by Cardinal Wiseman. The 
first was a learned Chaldean, Paul Alkushi, who had 
once been a student of the Propaganda, but relin- 
quished the intention of embracing the ecclesiastical 
profession. The other was a converted Jew, a native 
of Bagdad, and who, although otherwise illiterate, 
spoke fluently Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian. He 
was familiarly known in Rome by the sobriquet of 
'* Shalom^' from the habitual salutation with which 
he used to address his friends at meeting and parting. 

The only letters of this period which I have been 
able to procure are two, addressed to his Bolognese 
friends, Michael Ferrucci and Liborio Veggetti. The 
former (dated June 6th, 1836,) is in acknowledg- 
ment of some copies of Latin Epigrams, partly from 
his own pen, partly from that of the Canonico Schi- 
assi, which Ferrucci had sent to Mezzofanti : but it 
is chiefly noticeable for the warm interest which it 
evinces in the welfare of his old friend, Avho had writ- 
ten to ask advice and assistance in his candidature 
for a professorship in one of the Tuscan Universities, 
Signor Ferrucci, some time afterwards, went to Gen- 
eva, as professor of rhetoric, but he eventually ob- 
tained an appointment in the University of Pisa, 
where he is now Librarian. 

The letter to Veggetti, (February 17, 1838,) re- 
gards his appointment as Librarian of the University 


of Bologna, in which Mezzofanti had beeu much 

" I am delighted that my wishes have not been in vain or with- 
out effect, and that the Library, for so many years the object of 
my care, is confided to the direction of an old and distinguished 
pupil of my own. I need not give you any advice, knowing, as I 
do, what exactness and assiduity you have always shown in the 
discharge of your duties. Knowing, also, the good understanding 
you maintain with my nephew, Monsignor Minarelli, in whom I 
repose the fullest confidence, 1 need only say that if you consult 
with him in any doubt which may arise regarding your duties, it 
will be the same as if you were speaking with the old librarian 

I must confess I am more gratified at your having obtained this 
appointment, than if you had been appointed to the chair of 
History, a difficult post, and more difficult the farther one ad- 
vances. And while I congratulate you, I must also felicitate 
myself on leaving in such excellent hands the precious deposit 
hitherto entrusted to my own care. I will not fail to profit by 
your work which you have so kindly presented to me." 

Dr. Veggetti still holds the office of Librarian at 
Bologna. He continued to correspond occasionally 
with Mezzofanti, up to the period of his death. 



Among the offices connected with the Roman Court, 
there is a certain class, known as Poste Cardinalizie, 
the tenure of which is, in the ordinary course of affairs, 
a step to the Cardinalate. The chief keepership of 
the Vatican Library is not necessarily one of these ; 
but it had long been known that Monsignor Mezzo- 
fan ti was destined for the purple ; and, in a consistory 
held on the 12th of February, 1838. he was "preco- 
nized " as Cardinal Priest, in company with three 
other prelates — Angelo Mai, (who had been "reserved 
in petto " from the former year,) Orioli, and Mellini. 

The order of Cardinal Priests, as is well known, 
are the representatives, in the more modern 
constitution of the Roman church, of the ancient 
Preshyteri Cardinales — the priests of the principal 
churches in which Baptism was administered, (tituli 
Cardinales) of the ancient city. Their number, 
which at the end of the fifth century was twenty- 
five, has been gradually increased to fifty : but the 


memory of their primitive institution is preserved 
ia the titles under which they are named, and which 
are taken from the churches over which the ancient 
Presbyters presided. The title of Cardinal Mezzo- 
fiinti was derived from the ancient church of Saint 
Onuphrius, (Sant' Onofrio,) on the Janiculum, which 
is probably best known to visitors of Eome as the 
last resting-place of the poet Tasso. 

To many persons, no doubt, the office of Cardinal 
has but little significance, except as a part of the 
stately ceremonial of the Koman court — a brilliant 
and enviable sinecure, sometimes the reward of dis- 
tinguished merit, sometimes the prize of political in- 
fluence or hereditary family claims. But to well 
informed readers it is scarcely necessary to explain 
that the College of Cardinals forms, or rather supplies, 
the entire deliberative and executive administration 
of the Pope in the general management of the 
affairs of the Church ; holding permanently and syste- 
matically the place of the council of wdiich we so often 
read in the early centuries. By the ancient consti- 
tution of the Sacred College, all matters of importance 
were considered and discussed in the general meet- 
ing of the body, called the Consistory ; but, in the 
multiplication of business, it became necessary to 
distribute the labour ; and, since the latter part of 
the sixteenth century,* under the great administra- 
tive Pontiffs, Paul IV., Pius IV., PiusV., and above all 

* See an excellent article in Morone's " Dizionario di Ei'udizione 
Storico-ecclesiastica," as also the Kirchen-Lexicon, vol. II. 344 and 


Sixtus v., a system of ^'' cornjregatioiis " has arisen, 
by which, as by a series of committees, the details of 
all the various departments are administered ; yet 
under the general superintendence of the Pope 
himself, and subject, in all things, to his final revision. 
Some of these congregations, (which amount to 
nearly twenty in all,) consist exclusively of Cardinals; 
some are composed both of Cardinals and prelates ; 
and a few of prelates only: but, in almost every 
case, the Prefect, at least, of the congregation is a 
Cardinal. Some congregations meet every week, 
others only once a month ; but in all the leading 
ones, as for instance in the Propaganda, there is a 
weekly meeting (congresso) of the Prefect and 
secretary with the clerks or minutanti, for the des* 
patch of pressing business or of affairs of routine ; 
all the business of these meetings being submitted to 
the Pope for his approval. 

To each Cardinal, either as Prefect, or at least as 
member, four of these congregations, as en ordinary 
rule, are assigned at his first appointment y in many 
cases, the number is afterwards increased; and, 
when it is remembered that in many of these the 
business is weighty and complicated, often involving 
much documentary matter, extensive theological or 
canonical research, and careful investigation of 
precedents, &c. ; and that these congregations, after all, 
form but a part of the duties of a Cardinal ; it will 
be understood that his position is very far from the 
sinecure which the unreflecting may suppose it to be. 

In the congregations assigned to Cardinal Mezzo- 


fanti at his nomination, regard was of course paid to 
bis peculiar qualifications. He was named Prefect 
of the " Congregation for the correction of the Litur- 
gical Books of the Oriental Church," and also of the 
" Congregation of Studies." He v/as also, on the same 
grounds, appointed a member, not only of the general 
" Congregation of the Propaganda," but also of the 
special one " On the affairs of the Chinese Mission," 
and of those of " the Index," " of Rites," and of " the 
Examination of Bishops." 

With a similar consideration for his well known 
habits and tastes, and with a due appreciation of the 
charity for the sick which had always characterized 
him, he was named President of the great Hospital 
of San Salvatore, and visitor of the House of Cate- 
chumens, in which, as being chiefly destined for 
converted Jews and Mahomedans, his acquaintance 
with the Hebrew and Arabic languages and literatures 
rendered his services peculiarly valuable. 

The official revenue assigned from the Civil List 
for a cardinal resident in liome, is four tliousand 
Roman crowns (between eight and nine hundred 
pounds sterling) ; by far the greater part of which is 
absorbed in the necessary expenses of his household, 
the payment of his chaplain, secretary, and servants, 
the maintenance of his state equipage, &c. ; so that 
for those cardinals who, like Mezzofanti, possess 
no private fortune, the remnant available for purely 
personal expenditure is very trifling indeed. With 
Mezzofanti's frugal and simple habits, however, it 
not only proved amply suflicient to supply all his 


own modest wants, but also enabled him to enlarge 
and extend the unostentatious charities wliich, 
throughout his entire life, he had never failed to be- 
stow, even while he was himself struggling against 
the disadvantages of a narrow and precarious in- 
come. So well known, indeed, were his almost prodigal 
charities, while in charge of the Vatican, and his con- 
sequent poverty at the time of his nomination to the 
Cardinalate, that the Pope, Gregory XVI, , himself 
presented him, from the Pontifical establishment, the 
tAvo state carriages * which form the necessary 
equipage of a Cardinal in all processions and other 
occasions of public ceremonial. 

He selected for his residence the Palazzo Valenti- 
niani, in the Piazza SS. Apostoli ; where his nephew, 
Gaetano Minarelli, and Anna, one of his unmarried 
nieces, came to live with him on his nomination to the 
Cardinalate, and continued to reside until his death. 

The news of his elevation was received with great 
pleasure at Bologna, and was the occasion of many 
public and private demonstrations. The most re- 
markable of these was from the Academy of the 
Filopieri, of which he had been the President at the 
time of his removal from Bologna. The Italians are 
singularly conservative of established forms ; the 

* A friend of mine who chanced to pass as one of these carr'jiges 
(which had been dismantled preparatory to its being newly fitted up,) 
was on its way to the Pontifical Factory for the purpose, overheard 
some idle boys who were looking on, laughing at its heavy, lumbering 
look, and saying to each other: "Che barcaccia /" (What a shocking old 
boat !). He was greatly amused at the indignation with which the 
coachman resented this imj ertinent criticism. 


members of the Acuderay, in accordance with a usage 
which may almost be called classical, met in full assem- 
bly (with all the accompaniments of decorations, 
inscriptions, and music, in which Italian taste is dis- 
played on such occasions), to congratulate their fellow- 
academician. The congratulatory addresses, however, 
which in England would have been a set of speeches 
and resolutions, here, as became the " Lovers of 
the Muses," took a poetical form ; and a series of 
odes, sonnets,* elegies, canzoni^ terzine, and epigrams, 
in Greek, Latin, and Italian, were recited by the 
members. Some of them are exceedingly spirited and 
graceful. They were all collected into a little 
volume, which, with great delicacy and good taste, is 
dedicated not to the Cardinal himself, but to his 
nephew, Monsignor Joseph Minarelli, of whom I have 
already spoken, and who was at this time Kector of 
the university of Bologna. f 

A still more characteristic tribute on his elevation 

* A sample of Mezzofanti's own performance as a Filopiero — his 
reply to the verses of his friend, Count Marches! — is given by Mar- 
chetti, in his Pagine Monumentali, p. 150. 

De tuoi versi il content©, 

Cosi neir alma io sento, 

Che versi rendo gratulando teco. 

Ma oime' ! eh' io son qual eco, 

Che molti suoni asconde, 

E languida da lungi al fin responds, 
t The title is " All' Ementissimo Signer Cardinale Giuseppe 
Mezzofanti, Bolognese, elevato all' Onore della Porpora Romana, 
Applausi dei Filopieri, 8vo., Bologna, 1838." A similar tribute 
from the pen of Doctor Veggetti, who had succeeded Mezzofanti as 
Librarian, appeared a short time before, entitled " Tributo di 
Lode a Giuseppe Mezzofanti, Bolognese, creato Cardinale il Giorno 
12 Febbraro, 183B." Bologna, 1838. 


was a polyglot visit of congratulation from his young 
friends in the Propaganda. A party of fifty-three, 
comprising all the languages and nationalities at that 
time represented in the institution, waited upon him 
to offer their greetings in their various tongues. 
The new Cardinal was at once amused by the novel 
exhibition, and gratified by the compliment thus deli- 
cately implied. True, however, to his c)ld character 
for readiness and dexterity, he was found fully equal 
to the occasion, and answered each in his own lan- 
guage with great spirit and precision.* 

Cardinal Mezzofanti's elevation, of course, brought 
him into closer, and, if possible, more affectionate re- 
lations with the Pope. Among his brethren of the 
Sacred College, too, there were many whom, even as 
prelate, he could call his friends. I have already 
spoken of his relations with the learned Cardinal 
Giustiuiani, and the venerable Cardinal Pacca. 
With Cardinal Lambruschini, the Secretary of State, 
and Cardinal Fransoni, Prefect of the Propaganda, 
he had long been on a footing of most confidential 
intimacy. His especial friends, however, were Cardi- 
nals Mai, Polidori, Bernetti, and the amiable and 
learned English Cardinal Acton, who, although not 
proclaimed till 1842, was named in petto in the year 
after the elevation of Cardinal Mezzofanti.f 

• Stolz, Biografia, p. 7. 

f A bon-mot on occasion of Monsignar Mozzofanti's elevation, 
which I heard from Cardinal Wiseman, and which is ascribed 
to the good old Cardinal Rivarola, is worth recording, although 
the point is not fully appreciable, except in Italian. 

Mezzofanti, fiom his childhood, had worn ear-rings, as a preven- 


But, Avith the exception of the public and cere- 
monial observances which his new dignity exacted, it 
brought no change in his simple, and almost ascetic 
manner of life. The externals of his household, of 
course, underwent considerable alteration, but his 
personal habits remained the same. He continued to 
rise at the same hour : his morning devotions, his 
daily mass, his visits to the hospitals, and other pri- 
vate acts of charity, remained unaltered. His table, 
though displaying somewhat more ceremonial, con- 
tinued almost as frugal, and entirely as simple, as 
before his elevation. He persevered, unless when 
prevented by his various official duties, in paying his 
daily visit to the Propaganda, and in assisting and 
directing the studies of its young inmates, with all 
his accustomed friendliness and familiarity. His 
affiibility to visitors, even of the humblest class, was, 
if possible, increased. Above all, as regarded his 
favourite studies, and the exercise of his wonderful 
talent, his elevation to- the Cardinalate brought no 
abatement of enthusiasm, and no relaxation of energy. 
It is not merely that the visitors who saw him as 
Cardinal, concur in attesting the unaltered activity 
of his mind, and the undiminished interest with which 

tive, according to the popular notion, against an affection of the 
eyes, to which he had been subject. Some one observed that it was 
strange to see a " Cardinal wearing ear-rings,'' {chi porta orecchini.J 
" Not at all." rejoined Cardinal Rivarola, "Ci han da essere tanti 
uomini in dignita che portano orecchine ("long ears " — *• asses ears,") 
e perche non ci ha da essere uno alineno chi porti orecvkini? fear- 
rings.) There are many dignitaries who have orecc/H/jf, (asses-ears), 
and why should not there be at least one with orecchini — ear-rings ?" 


lie availed himself of every new opportunity of })er- 
fecting or exercising his favourite accomplishment. 
For years after his elevation, he continued to add 
zealously and successfully to the stores which he had 
already laid up. There is distinct evidence that after 
this period, (although he had now entered upon his 
sixty-fourth year,) he acquired several languages, 
with which he had previously had little, and perhaps 
no acquaintance. 

A very interesting instance has been communica- 
ted to me by M. Antoine d'Abbadie,* who visited 
the Cardinal in 1839, at Rome. M. d'Abbadie had 
been a traveller from early manhood. Setting out in 
the year 1837, in company with his brother Arnauld, 
to explore the sources of the White Nile, he tra- 
versed the greater part of north eastern Africa. 
Their wanderings, however, proved a mission of 
religion and charity, no less than of science. During 
their long and varied intercourse with the several 
tribes of Abyssinia, they observed with painful 
interest that strange admixture of primitive Catholic 
truth with gross and revolting superstition by which all 
travellers have been struck ; and their first care was 
to study carefully the condition of the country and 
the character of the people, with a view to the organi- 
zation of a judicious and effective missionary expe- 

• Perhaps it is not generally known that the brothers Antoine and 
Arnauld d'Abbadie, although French by name, fortune, and educa- 
tion, are not only children of an Irish mother, but wtre born, and 
spent the first years of childhood, in Dublin. M. Antoine d'Abbadie 
lived in Dublin till his eighth year. See his letter to the Athcn- 
leum, (Cairo, Nov. 16, 1848,) vol. for 1849, p. 93. 


dition by which their many capabilities for good 
might be developed. Hence, it is that, while their 
letters, reports, and essays, communicated to the 
various scientific journals and societies of France 
and England,* have added largely to our knowledge of 
the languages,! ^^^ geography, and the natural history 
of these imperfectly explored provinces, their services 
to the Church by the introduction of missionaries, by 
the advice and information which they have uniformly 
afforded them, and even by their own personal co- 
operation in the great work, have entitled them to 
the gratitude of all to whom the interests of truth 
and civilization are dear. 

M. Antoine d'Abbadie, after two years spent in such 
labours, returned to Europe in 1839, for the purpose 
of preparing himself for a further and more syste- 
matic exploration. On arriving in Rome, he took an 
early opportunity of waiting upon the Cardinal, 
accompanied by two Abyssinians, who spoke only the 
Amarinna language, and by a Galla servant, whose, 
native (and only) language was the Ilmorma, a 
tongue almost entirely unknown, even to the learned 
in this branch of philology.^ M. dAbbadie himself 

* The Journal Asiatique, passim ; the Athenaeum, 1839, 1843, 1849 ; 
the Geographical Society of France, and of England, &c. 

t M. d'Abbadie collected with great care, as opportunity offered, 
vocabularies, more or less extensive, of a vast number of the lan- 
guages* of this region of Africa. His collections, also, on the 
natural history and geography, as well as on the religious and 
social condition of the country, are most extensive and valuable. 
The work in which he is understood to be engaged upon the subject, 
is looked for with mnch interest. 

X When M. d'Abbadie, in one of his letters to the Athenaeum, 


spoke Basque, a language which was still new to 
Mezzofanti ; and he was thus witness of what was 
certainly a very unwonted scene — the great Poly- 
glottist completely at fault. 

" I saw Cardinal Mezzofanti/' writes M. d'Abbadie, " in 1839. 
He asked me in Arabic what language I wished to speak, and I, in 
order to test him, proposed conversing in Basque. I am far from 
knowing this idiom well ; but, as I transact my farmer's business 
in Basque, I can easily puzzle a foreigner in it. The Cardinal 
waived my proposal, and asked me what African language I 
would speak I now spoke Amarinna, i.e., the language named 
Ancharica by Ludolf, who probably added the final c in order to 
suit the word lo Latin articulation. Not being able to answer in 
Amarinna, Mezzofanti said : Ti amirnu timhirta lisana Gi-iz 
('Have you the knowledge of the Gi-iz language?') This 
was well said, and beautifully pronounced, but shewed that 
the Cardinal got his knowledge of Gi-iz from persons who 
read, but did not speak it in general. I afterwards ascertained in 
Abyssinia that no professor, i.e., no person accustomed to collo- 
quial Gi-iz, had been yet in Rome, during this century at least. 
I may here mention that Gi-iz, generally called Ethiopic in 
Europe, is the liturgical language in Abyssinia, where it is 
looked on by the leanied as a dead language, although it is still 
spoken by at least one of the shepherd tribes near the Red 
Sea. In my visit to Cardinal Mezzofanti, I had with me two 
Amara Abyssines, with whom he could not speak, as neither of 
them knew Gi-iz enough, and I had not yet learned that lan- 
guage. My third com])anion was a Galla, who had taught me 
his language, viz., Ilmorma, in a tnost tedious way, for he 
knew no other tongue, and I was forced to elicit every meaning 
by a slowly convergent series, of questions, which I i)ut every 
time he used a word new to me. Some of these had until then re- 
mained a mystery lo me ; as the word self, and some others of 

first alluded to the Ilmorraa, its existence, as a distinct language, 
was absolutely denied. 

o84 Lin: of cardinal mezzofanti. 

the same absliaci t-lass. I had likewise labuiired in vain to gel 
the Ilniorma word for 'soul' ; and having mentioned all this to 
Mezzofanti, I added, that as a philologist and a father of the 
church, he could render me no better service than giving me the 
meairs of teaching my Galla barbarian that he had a soul to be 
saved. 'Could not your eminence,' said I, ' find the nieans of 
learning from this African what is the word for sonl ? I have 
written twelve hundred words of bis language, which you will 
certainly turn to better account than I can.' The Cardinal made 
no direct answer. I saw him several times afterwards, and he 
always addressed me in Arabic; but, being a tyro in thai lan- 
guage, I could not pretend to judge his knowledge or fluency. 
However, a native Syrian then in Rome, told me that both were 
admirable: this referred, I suppose now, to the Syrian dialect." 

A failure so unusual for Mezzofanti, and in so many 
languages, could not but prove a stimulus to the indus- 
try of this indefatigable student. He wasatthe moment 
busily engaged in the revision of the Maronite and 
Armenian liturgies ; — a circumstance, by the way, 
which perhaps may account for his passing over with- 
out notice, M. d'Abbadie's proposal about the Galla 
languoge ; — but, a few n"ionths later, he addressed 
himself to the Amarinna with all the energy of his 
most youthful days. How it ended, we shall see. 

In the close of July, 1841, when I first had the 
honour of seeing him, he was surrounded by a group 
of A^byssinians, who had just come to Rome under 
the escort of Monsignor de Jacobis, the apostolic Pre- 
fect of the Abyssinian mission. These Abyssinians 
were all reputed to be persons of distinction among 
their countrymen, and several of the number Avere 
understood to ])e professors and men of letters. The 
Cardinal was speaking to them freely and without 


embarrassment ; and his whole manner, as well as 
theirs, appeared to me (so far as one entirely unac- 
quainted Avith the language could judge) to indicate 
that he spoke with ease, and was understood by them 
without an effort. Thinking it probable, however, 
that M. d'Abbadie during his second sojourn in Abys- 
sinia, must have known something of this mission, 
I thought it well to write to him on the subject. He in- 
formed me, in reply, that the Abyssinians Avhom I had 
thus seen were a deputation of the schismatical Chris- 
tians of that country, who had been sent by the na- 
tive chieftains to Alexandria, to obtain from the Pa- 
triarch (to whom they so far recognise their subjec- 
tion) the consecration of the Abun, or Primate, of 
their national church. Father de Jacobis, who was 
their fellow-traveller as far as Alexandria, induced 
them to accompany him to Rome, where they were 
so much struck with all that they saw and heard, that 
" two out of the three professors of Gondar, who were 
the leaders of the deputation, have, since their return, 
freely and knowingly entered the one true Church — 
Amari, Kanfu, and the one-eyed professor, Gab'ra 
Mikael." One of these told M. d'Abbadie that "Car- 
dinal Mczzofanti conversed very well with him in 
Amarinna, and that he also knew the Gi-iz language," 
He had thus learned the ximarinna between 1839 
and 1841. 

I am indebted to M. d'Abbadie fur an account of 
another still later acquisition of the Cardinal's de- 
clining years. Before the summer of 1841, he had 


acquired the Amarinna language. Now at that time 
he was actually engaged, with all the energy of his 
early years, in the study of the proverbially '* impos- 
sible"* Basque, in which, as we have seen, M. d'Ab- 
badie found him a novice in 1839. 

One of my companions in Rome in 1841, the la- 
mented Guido Gorres, of Munich, son of the vener- 
able author of that name, and himself one of the most 
accomplished writers of Catholic Germany, having 
chanced to say to the Cardinal that he was then en- 
gaged in the study of Basque, the latter proposed 
that they should pursue it in company. Their read- 
ings had only just commenced when I last saw Herr 
Gorres ; but M. d'Abbadie's testimony at a later date 
places the Cardinal's success in this study likewise 
entirely beyond question. He had not only learned 
before the year 1844, the general body of the lan- 
guage, but even mastered its various dialects so as 
to be able to converse both in the Labourdain and 
the Souletin ; which, it should be observed, are not 
simply dialects of Basque, but minor sub-divisions of 
one out of the four leading dialects which prevail in 
the different districts of Biscay and Navarre. 

• One of the writers on the Bcisque Grammar, Manuel de Larra- 
raendi, entitles his book, Impossible vencido, ('*The Impossible Over- 
come," )|8vo. Salamanca, 1729. Some idea, though a faint one,of the dif- 
ficulty of ihis Grammar, may be formed from the number and names 
of the words of a Basque verb. They are no less than eleven ; and 
are denominated by grammarians, the Indicative, the Consuetudinal, 
the Potential, theVoluntary, the Necessary (coactive,) thelmperative, 
Subjunctive, Optative, Peniludinary (!) and Infinitive. — The variety 
of tenses in Basque also, is very great. But it should be added that 
the structure of these moods and tenses is described as singularly 
philosophical, and full of harmony and of analogy. 


"My friend M.Dassance,"says M. d'Abbadie, "who has published 
several works, and who, after declining a bishopric, is slill a canon 
in the Bajonne Cathedral, told me the other day, that, on visiting the 
Cardinal in I8i4t, he was surprised to hear him speak French 
with that peculiar Parisian accent which pertains to the ancient 
nobility of the Faubourg St. Germain. This is a nice distinction 
of which several Frenchmen are not aware. On hearing that 
Dassance was a Basque, the Cardinal immediately said : Mingo 
zilugu ? (verbatim — ' Of whence have we you' ?) thus shew- 
ing that he had mastered the tremendous difficulty of our verna- 
cular verb. The ensuing conversation took ])lace in the pure 
Labourdain dialect, which is spoken here (at Urrugne,) but one 
of the professors of the Bayonne Seminary, Father Chilo, from 
Soule, avers that the Cardinal spoke to him in the Souletin 

I afterwards shewed to M. d'Abbadie a short sen- 
tence in Basque which the Cardinal wrote with his 
own hand, and which is printed among the fac similes 
prefixed to this volume. 

Tauna ! zu servitzea da erreguiuatea ; 

Zu maitatzea da zoriona, 

•' Lord ! to serve Thee is to reign ; 

To love Thee, is happiness." 

M. d'Abbadie, as also his Highness Prince Lewis 
L. Bonaparte, to whom M. d'Abbadie submitted it, 
had some doubt as to the propriety of the. form, 'zu 
servitzea,' ^zu maitatzea' ; both of them preferring to 
write zure. But, as the dialect in which the sentence 
is written is that of Guipuscoa, both his Highness and 
M. d'Abbadie have kindly taken the trouble to refer 
the question to native Guipuscoan scholars ; and I 

• Letter of M. d'Abbadie, May 6, 1855. 


have had the gratification to learn by a letter ofM. 
d'Abbadie, (January 18th, 1858,) that " the construc- 
tion ' zu servitzea,' is perfectly correct in Guipuscoan." 

M. d'Abbadie subjoins, that, in addition to the 
authority of his friend, M. Dassance, for the Cardinal's 
knowledge of Basque, he has since been assured by a 
Spanish lady, a native of San Sebastian, the capital 
of G-uipuscoa, that the Cardinal had also conversed 
with her in her native Guipuscoan dialect. Moreover, 
when M. Manavit saw him in Kome in 1846, he 
translated freely in his presence a newly published 
Basque catechism, which M. Manavit presented to 
him on the part of the Bishop of Astros : and several 
distinguished Biscay an ecclesiastics assured M. Mana- 
vit that the Cardinal spoke both the dialects of 
Basque with equal fluency.* In a word, it appears 
impossible to doubt the complete success of this, one of 
his latest essays in the acquisition of a new language. 

As the object of this biography, however, is not 
merely to bring together such marvels as these, but 
to collect all the materials for a just portraiture of 
the linguist himself, I must place in contrast with 
these truly wonderful narratives, the judgments of 
other travellers, in order that the reader may be 
enabled to modify each by comparison with its pen- 
dant, and to form his own estimate from a just com- 
bination of both. 

It must be confessed, as a set off against the 

wonders which have been just recounted, that there 

• were others of Mezzofanti's visitors who were unable 

• Manavit, p. 109. 


to see in him any of these excellencies. I think, 
however, that these depreciatory judgments will be 
found for the most part to proceed from ignorant and 
superficial tourists, and from those who are least 
qualified to form an accurate estimate of the attain- 
ments of a linguist, One of the heaviest penalties 
of eminence is the exposure which it involves to 
impertinent or malevolent criticism, nor is it won- 
derful that one who received so great a variety of 
visitors as did Mezzofanti, should have had his 
share of this infliction. 

Mrs. Paget, a Transylvanian lady, married to an 
English gentleman, who saw Mezzofanti a little 
before M. d'Abbadie, is cited by Mr. Watts.* Her 
characteristic is rather recklessness and ill-breeding 
than positive malevolence. But as her strictures, ill- 
bred as they are, contain some facts which tend to 
illustrate the main subject of inquiry, I shall insert 
them without abridgment. 

" Mezzofanti entered, in conversation with two young Moors, 
and, turning to us, asked us to be seated. On me his first 
appearance produced an unfavourable inipresson. His age inight 
be about seventy ; he was small in stature, dry, and of a pale un- 
healthy look. His whole person was in monkey-like restless 
motion. We conversed together for some time. He speaks 
Hungarian well enough, and his pronunciation is not bad. I 
asked him from whom he had learned it ; he said from the 
common soldiers at Milan. He had read the works of Kisfaludi 
and Csokonai, Pethe's Natural History, and some other Hungarian 
book?, but it seemed to me that he rather studies the words than 

* Olaszhoni es Schweizi Vtazas Irta Paget Janosne "Wesselenyi 
Tolyxena, 1842, vol. I., p. ISO. Mr. Watts's Memoir, p. 121. 


the subject of what lie reads. Some English being present, he 
spoke English with them very fluently and well ; with me he 
afterwards spoke French and German, and he even addressed me 
in Wallachian ; but to my shame I was unable to answer. He 
asked if I knew Slowakian. In showing us some books, he read 
out from them in Ancient and Modern Greek, Latin and Hebrew. 
To a priest who was with us, and who had travelled in Palestine, 
he spoke in Turkish. I asked him how many languages he 
knew : ' Not many,' he replied, ' for I only speak forty or 
fifty.' Amazing incomprehensible faculty ! but not one that I 
should in the least be tempted to envy; for the empty unreflect- 
ing vvord-knowledge, and the innocently exhibited small vanity 
with which he was filled, reminded me rather of a monkey or a 
parrot, a talking machine, or a sort of organ vFound up for the 
performance of certain tunes, than of a being endowed with rea- 
son. He can, in fact, only be looked upon as one of the curiosi- 
ties of the Vatican. 

"At parting, I took an opportunity of asking if he would allow 
me to present an Hungarian book to the Vatican library. My 
first care at my hotel was to send a copy of M. W.'s book, 
' Balileletekrol ' (' On Prejudices ')* to tlie binder, and a few 
days afterwards I took it, handsomely bound in white leather, to 
Mezzofanti, whom 1 found in a hurry to go and baptize some 
Jews and Moors. As soon as he saw the book, without once 
looking into it, even to ascertain the name of the author, he 
called out, ' Ah ! igen szep, igen szep, munka. Szepen van 
bekijlve. Aranyos. szep, szep, igen szep, igen koszonom . ' 
(Ah ! very fine, very fine, very finely bound. Beautiful, very 
fine, very fine, thank you very much ;) — and put it away in a book- 
case. Unhappy Magyar volumes, never looked at out of their 
own country, but by some curious student of jjhilology like 
Mezzofanti, and in their own country read by how few ! " 

Now, in the first place, in the midst of this lady's 
supercilious and depreciatory strictures, it may safely 

* This book is in the Library Catalogue, p. 138. 


be inferred, that Mezzofanti's Hungarian at least 
must have been unexceptionable, in order to draw from 
one so evidently prejudiced, the admission that he 
" spoke it well enough," and that ** his pronunciation 
was not bad." Lest, however, any doubt should be 
created by these grudging acknowledgments, I 
shall quote the testimony of a Hungarian nobleman, 
Baron Glucky de Stenitzer, who met the Cardinal in 
Rome some years later, in 1845. The Baron not 
only testifies to the excellence of his Magyar, but 
aOirms "that, in the course of the interview, his Emi- 
nence spoke no less than four different dialects of that 
tongue — the pure Magyar of Debreczeny, that of the 
environs of Eperies, that of Pesth, and that of 
Transylvania !" 

In like manner, though Madame Paget takes upon 
her to say, that "the Cardinal studies the words rather 
than the subject of what he reads," Baron Glucky 
found him ''profoundly versed in the laws and consti- 
tution of Hungary" ; and when, in speaking of the ex- 
traordinary power enjoyed by the Primate of Hun- 
gary, the Baron chanced to allude to his privilege of 
coining money, his Eminence promptly reminded him 
that " this privilege had been withdrawn by the Em- 
peror Ferdinand, and even quoted the year of the 
edict by which it was annulled !"* 

As regards the dashing style in which this lady 
sets aside the Cardinal's Magyar reading, which only 
embraced " the works of Kisfaludi and Czokonai, 
Pethe's Natural History, and some other Hungarian 
books," it may be enough for the reader to know that, 
■without reckoning the " other Hungarian books," tho 

* Letter of June 6, 1855. 


three works which she names thus slightingly, com- 
prise no less than seven volumes of poetry and mis- 
cellaneous literature. 

For what remains of her strictures upon the cha- 
racter of Mezzofanti — strictures be it observed, which 
she has the hardihood to offer, although her entire 
knowledo-e Avas derived from two interviews of a few 
minutes, among a crowd of other visitors — her charge 
of love of display, "empty word-knowledge," " monkey- 
like" exhibition, and the other pettinesses of "small 
vanity," the best conmientary that can be offered is an 
account of the Cardinal published at this very period, 
by one who knew him intimately during a residence 
of many months in Eome, who was actually for a 
time his pupil or fellow student, and Avho, from his 
position, was thoroughly conversant, not only with the 
sentiments of the Cardinal's friends and admirers, but 
with all the variety of criticisms to which, according 
to the diversity of tastes and opinions, his character 
and his gifts were subjected in the general society of 
the literary circles of Eome — I mean the amiable 
and learned Guido Gorres. I may add that I 
myself was Herr Gorres's companion in one of his 
interviews with the Cardinal. 

"If any one should imagine,'' he writes, (in the Histoiisch- 
Polilische Blatter, * of which, cor.jointly with Dr. Phillips, he 
was editor,) " that all the honours which he has received have 
produced the slightest effect upon his character or disposition, he 
is grievously mislaken. Under all the insignia of the cavdinalate, 
Mezzofanti is still the same plain, simple, almost bashful, good- 
natured, conscientious, indefatigable, active priest that he was, 
■while a poor professor, struggling by the exercise of his talents, 
• Volume X. (1842.) p. 227—279-80. 


in the humblest form, to gain a livelihood for the relatives "v^ho 
were dependant on his exertions. Although his head is stored 
with so many languages, it has never,, as so frequently occurs to 
the learned, shown the least indication of lightness As Prefect 
of the House of Catechumens he is merely of course, charged 
with the supervision of their instruction; but he still discharges 
the duty in person, with all the exactness of a conscientious 
schoolmaster. He visits the establishment almost every day, and 
devotes a considerable part of his income to the support of its 

In like manner he still, as Cardinal, maintains with the Pro- 
paganda precisely the same relations which he held as a simple 
prelate. Although he is not bound thereto by any possible obli- 
gation, he devotes every day to the students of that institution, 
iu summer an hour, in winter an hour and a half. He practises 
them and also himself in their several languages, and zealously 
avails himself of the opportunity thus afforded him, to exhort 
them to piety and to strengthen them in the spirit of their calling. 

It is scarcely necessary to say that these youths regard 
their disinterested friend and benefactor with the most devoted 
atfection. ***** * 

When I spoke to him, one day, about his relations with the 
pupils, he said to me, ' It is not as a Cardinal I go there; it 
is as a student — as a youth — (giovanetlo.)* 
♦ * * * * * » 

He is familiar with all the European languages. And by this 
we understand not merely the old classical tongues and the first 
class modern ones; that is to say, the Greek and Latin, the Ita- 
lian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and English; his 
knowledge embraces also the languages of the second class, viz. 
the Dutch, the Polish, Bohemian or Czechish, and Servian; the 
Hungarian, and Turkish ; and even those of the third and fourth 
class—the Irish, Welsh, Albanian, Wallachian, Bulgarian, and 
Illyrian — are equally at his couimand. On my haj)peniug to 
mention that I had once dabbled a little in Basque, he at once 
proposed that we should set ahout it together. Even the Ro- 
mani of the Alps, and the Lettish, are not unfamiliar to him ; 
ray, he has made himself acquainted with Iia})pish, the language 


of the wretched nomadic tribes of Lapland ; although he told me 
he did not know whether it should be called Lappish or Laplan- 
dish. He is master of all the languages which are classed under 
the Indo-German family — the Sanscrit and Persian, the Koor- 
dish, the Armenian, and the Georgian ; he is familiar with all 
the members of the Semitic family, the Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, 
Samaritan, Chaldee, Sabaic, and even the Chinese, which 
he not only reads but speaks. As regards Africa, he knows the 
Coptic, Ethiopic, Abyssinian, Amharic, and Angolese." 

Gorres adds what I have already mentioned, as a 
characteristic mark of their affectionate gratitude, that 
forty-three of his Propaganda scholars waited upon 
him on occasion of his promotion to the Cardinalate, 
and addressed to him a series of congratulations, each 
in his native dialect. He fully bears out tpo, the 
assurance which has been repeated over and over 
again by every one who had really enjoyed the 
intimacy of the Cardinal, that, frequently as he 
came before the public in circumstances which seemed 
to savour of display, and freely as he contributed to 
the amusement of his visitors by exhibiting in conver- 
sation with them his extraordinary acquii*ements, he 
Avas entirely free from that vanity to which Madame 
Paget thinks proper to ascribe it all. 

" With all his high qualifications,'* says the Rev. In- 
graham Kip,* a clergyman of the American episcopal 
church, " there is a modesty about Cardinal Mezzo- 
fanti which shrinks from anything like praise.'* "It 
would be a cruel misconception of his character,'* 
says Guido Gorres, "to imagine that, with all the ad- 
miration and all the wonder of which he habitually saw 

» Christmas Holidays at Rome. By the Rev. Ingraham Kip, ed- 
ited by the Rev. W. Sewell, p. 175. 


himself the object, he yet prided himself in the least 
upon this extraordinary gift. 'Alas!' he once 
said to a friend of mine, a good simple priest, who, 
sharing in the universal curiosity to see this wonder- 
ful celebrity, apologized to the Cardinal for his visit 
by some compliment upon his European reputation : 
— ' alas ! what will all these languages avail me for. 
the kingdom of heaven, since it is by works, not words,' 
that we must win our way thither !' " 

In truth Cardinal Mezzofanti possessed in an emi- 
nent degree the great safeguard of cliristian humility 
— a habitual consciousness of what he was not, rather 
than a self-complacent recollection of what he was. 
He used to speak freely of his acquirement as one of 
little value, and one especially for which he himself 
had little merit — a mere physical endowment — a 
thing of instinct, and almost of routine. God, he said, 
had gifted him with a good memory and a quick ear. 
There lay the secret of his success — "What am I," he 
would pleasantly say, " but an ill-bound dictionary !" 
" He used to disparage his gifts to me," says Cardinal 
Wiseman ; " and he once quoted a saying ascribed to 
Catherine de Medici, who when told that Scaliger 
knew twenty languages, observed, ' that is twenty 
words for one idea ! For my part I would rather 
have twenty ideas for one word !* " On one occasion, 
after the publication of Cardinal Wiseman's Horce 
SyriacoB^ Mezzofanti said to him : " You have put 
your knowledge of languages to some purpose. When 
1 go, I shall not leave a trace of what I know behind 
me !" And when his friend suggested that it was not 


yet too late, he '' shook his head and said it was'' — 
•which he also repeated to Giiido Gorres, earnestly ex- 
pressing his " regret that his youth had fallen upon a 
time when languages were not studied from that 
scientific point of view from which they are now re- 
garded." In a word, the habitual tendency of his 
mind in reference to himself, and to his own acquire- 
ments, was to depreciate them, and to dwell rather 
upon his own deficiency and short-comings, than 
upon his success. 

Accordingly, while he was always ready to gra- 
tify the learned interest, or even to amuse the lighter 
curiosity, with which his extraordinary talent was re- 
garded, there was as little thought of himself in the 
performance, and as little idea of display, as though 
he were engaged in an ordinary animated conversa- 
tion. It was to him an exciting agreeable exercise 
and nothing more. He engaged in it for its own sake. 
To him it was as natural to talk in a foreign language 
as it would be to another to sing, to relate a lively 
anecdote, or to take part in an interesting discussion. 
To his hum^ble and guileless mind the notion of exhi- 
bition never presented itself. He retained to his 
latest hour and through all the successive steps of 
his advancement, the simplicity and lightheartedness 
of boyhood. It was impossible to spend half an hour 
in his company without feeling the literal truth of 
what he himself said to Gorres regarding his relations 
to the pupils of the Propaganda ; — that he went among 
them not as a Cardinal, but as a school-boy /giovanetto) 
"What Madame Paget puts down to the account of 


" small vanity," was in reality the result of the<e al- 
most boyish spirits, and of this simple and unaffected 
good nature. He delighted in amusing and giving 
pleasure ; he was always ready to display his extra- 
ordinary gifts, partly for the gratification of others, 
partly because it was to himself an innocent and 
amusing relaxation : but, among the various impul- 
ses to which he yielded, unquestionably the idea of 
display was the last that occurred to him as a motive 
of action. I can say, from my own observation, that 
never in the most distinguished circle, did he give 
himself to those linguistic exercises with half the 
spirit which he evinced among his humble friends, 
the obscure and almost nameless students of the 



Although my own recollections of Cardinal 
Mezzofanti, in comparison with those which have 
already been laid before the reader, are so few and 
unimportant that I hesitated at one time as to the 
propriety of alluding to them, 1 feel that I should be 
very forgetful of the kindness which I experienced 
at all times at his hands, were T to withhold the im- 
pressions of his character as well as of his gifts, which 
I received from my intercourse with him. 

I saw Cardinal Mezzofanti for the first time, in 
July, 1841. He was then in his sixty-seventh year : 
but, although his look and colour betrayed the 
delicacy of his constitution, his carriuge, as yet, ex- 
hibited little indication of the feebleness of approach- 
ing age. He was below the middle stature, and alto- 
gether of a diminutive, though light, and in youth most 
active frame. His shoulders, it is true, were slightly 



rounded, and his chest had an appearance of coulrac- 
tion ; but his movements were yet free, toleraljly 
vigorous, and, although perhaps too hurried for 
dignity, not ungraceful. His hair was plentifully 
dashed with gray ; but, except on the crown, where 
the baldness was but partially concealed by the red zuc- 
chettOj (skull cap,) it was still thick and almost luxuri- 
ant. More than one portrait of him has been published, 
and several of those who saw him at different times 
have recorded their impressions of his appearance : but 
I cannot say that any of these portraitures, whether of 
pencil or of pen, conveys a full idea of the man. 
His countenance Avas one of those which Madame 
Dudevant strangely, but yet significantly, describes 
as " not a face, but a physiognomy." Its character 
lay far less in the features than in the expression. 
The former, taken separately, were unattractive, and 
even insignificant. The proportions of the face were 
far from regular. The complexion was dead and 
colourless, and these defects were made still more re- 
markable by a small mole upon one cheek. There 
was an occasional nervous winking of the eyelids, too, 
which produced an air of weakness, and at times 
even of constraint ; but there was, nevertheless, a 
pervading expression of gentleness, simplicity, and 
open-hearted candour, which carried ofi" all these 
individual defects, and which no portrait could 
adequately embody. Mr. Monckton Milnes told me 
that the best likeness of the Cardinal he ever saw, 
was the kneeling figure in Raffaelle's noble picture, 
the Madonna di Foligno : and undoubtedly, without 


any close affinity of lineament, it has a strong general 
similitude of air and expression : — the same " open 
brow of undisturbed humanity," on which no passion 
had written a single line, and which care had touched 
only to soften and spiritualize ; the same quiet smile, 
playful, yet subdued, humility blended with self-re- 
spect, modesty unmarred by shyness or timidity ; — 
above all the same 

Eyes beaming courtesy and mild regard — 

radiant with a sweetness which I have seldom seen 
equalled ; singularly soft and winning, and possess- 
ing that undefined power which is the true beauty of 
an honest eye — a full and earnest, but not scrutini- 
zing look — deep, but tranquil, and placing you entire- 
ly at ease with yourself by assuring you of its own 
perfect calmness and self-possession. But the great 
charm of Cardinal Mezzofanti's countenance was the 
look of purity and innocence which it always wore. I 
have seldom seen a face which retained in old age so 
much of the simple expression of youth, I had almost 
said of childhood ; although, with all this gaiety and 
light-heartedness, there was a gentle gravity in his 
bearing which kept it in perfect harmony with hisyears 
and character. He had acquired, or he possessed from 
nature, the rare and difficult characteristic of cheer- 
ful old age, to which Rochefoucault alludes when he 
says : — Pen de gens savent etre vieux. And thus he 
was equally at home among his venerable peers of the 
Consistory, and in the youngest and most light-hearted 
camerata of the Propaganda. No old man ever 
illustrated more clearly that 


The heart — the heart, is the heritage 
Which keepeth the old man joung ! 

During a sojourn of some weeks in Rome, in the 
summer of 1841, I had the honour of conversing 
with his eminence several times ; at the Propaganda ; 
at the Roman Seminary ; at a meeting of the Aeca- 
demia della Religione Cattolica ; and more than 
once in his own apartments. In the course of one 
of these interviews I heard him speak in several lan- 
guages, to different acquaintances whom he met, and 
with each of whom he conversed in his own tongue — 
English, German, French, Spanish, Romaic, and 
Hungarian. With myself his conversation was 
always in English. 

His English, as we have seen, has been variously 
judged. Herr Fleck describes it as " only middling :" 
by others it is pronounced to be undistinguishable 
from that of a native. The truth, as in all such 
cases, lies between these extremes. 

All visitors, with the single exception of Herr Fleck, 
(certainly a very questionable authority,) concur in 
admitting at least the perfect fluency and strict 
grammatical accuracy of the Cardinal's English 
conversation : but some have hesitated as to its 
idiomatical propriety. M. Crawford, ex-secretary of 
the Ionian Islands, told M. d'Abbadie* last year, that 
Mezzofanti appeared to him to use some un-English 
constructions. To Dean Milman, who was intro- 
duced to him several years ago by Mr. Francis Hare, 
his English appeared **as if learned from books, 

• Letter of October II, 1857. 


grammatical, rather than idiomatical.*'* And Lady- 
Morgan even determines the period of English litera- 
ture on which his English appeared to be modelled.f 
I cannot fully concur, nevertheless, in this opinion. 
My own impressions of the Cardinal's English, de- 
rived from many conversations on different occasions, 
agree with those already quoted from Mr. Stewart 
Rose, Lady Blessington, Mr. Harford, Bishop 
Baines, Cardinal Wiseman, and others, who at- 
test his perfect accuracy both of grammar and 
of idiom. Mr. Badeley, the eminent lav/yer, who saw 
him but one year before his death, told me that " he 
spoke English in a perfectly easy andnatural manner;" 
and Mr. Kip, whose visit was about the same time, 
declares that, " in the course of a long conversation 
which he held with the Cardinal, his eminence did 
not use a single expression or word in any way that 
was not strictly and idiomatically correct." It is 
true that I should hardly have been deceived as to his 
being a foreigner ; but the slight, though to my ear 
decisive, foreign characteristics of his English, were 
rather of accent than of language ; or, if they regarded 
language at all, it was not that his expressions were 
unidiomatical, or that his vocabulary was wanting in 
propriety, but merely that his sentences were occa- 
sionally more formal — more like the periods of a 
regular oratorical composition than is common in the 
freedom of every-day conversation. Nor did the 
peculiarity of accent to which I refer amount to any- 
thing like absolute impropriety. His pronunciation 

• Letter of Feb. 23, 1847. 
t Iial}' I, 292. 


was most exact ; his accentuation almost unerring ; 
and, although it certainly could be distinguished from 
that of a born Englishman, the difference lay chiefly in 
its being more marked, and in its precision being more 
evidently the result of effort and of rule, than the 
unstudied and instinctive enunciation of a native 
speaking his own language. If I were disposed to 
criticize it very strictly, I might say (paradoxical as 
this may seem,) that, compared with the enunciation 
of a native, it was almost too correct to appear com- 
l?letely natural ; and that its very correctness gave 
to it some slight tendency to that extreme which the 
Italians themselves, in reference to their own language 
in the mouth of a stranger, describe as caricato* 
But I have no hesitation in saying, that I never met 
any foreigner, not resident in England, whose English 
conversation could be preferred to Mezzofanti's. The 
foreign peculiarity was, in my judgment, so slight as 
to be barely perceptible, and I have myself known 
more than one instance similar to that already related 
from Cardinal Wiseman, in which Irish visitors meet- 
ing the Cardinal for the first time, without knowing 
who he was, took him for an English dignitary* 
mistaking the slight trace of foreign peculiarity which 
I have described for what is called in Ireland, *' the 
English accent." 

Indeed with what care he had attended to the nice- 
ties of English pronunciation — the great stumbling 

♦ I think it was the late Rev. John Smyth, a clergyman of Dub- 
lin, who, while I myself was in Rome, conversed with Cardinal 
Mezzofanti under the impression that he was speaking with the 
English Cardinal Acton. 


block of all foreign students of the language — may- 
be inferred from his familiarity with the peculiar 
characteristics, even of the provincial dialects. It 
will be recollected how he had amused Mr. Harford 
in 1817, by his specimens of the Yorkshire and the 
Zumm ersetshire dialects, and how successfully he 
imitated for Mr. Walsh the slang of a London 
cabman. And a still more amusing example of the 
minuteness of his knoAvledge of these dialects has 
been communicated to me by Kev. Mr. Grant of 
Lytham, brother of my friend the Bishop of South- 
wark, to whose unfailing kindness I am indebted for 
this and for many other most interesting particulars 
regarding the Cardinal. Mr. Grant was presented 
to his eminence in the Spring of 1841, by the Rev. 
Father Kelleher, an Irish Carmelite, of which order 
the Cardinal was Protector. After some prelimina- 
ries the conversation turned upon the English lan- 

" ' You have many patois in the English language,' said the 
Cardinal. ' For instance, the Lancashire dialect is very different 
from that spoken hy the Cockneys; [he used this word ; — ] so 
much so, that some Londoners wonld find considerable difficulty in 
understanding what a Lancashire man said. The Cockneys always 
use V instead of w, and w instead of v : so that they say ' vine' in- 
s;ead of 'wine ;' [he gave this example.] And then the Irish brogue, 
as it is called, is another variety. I remember very distinctly 
having a conversation with an Irish gentleman whom I met soon 
after the peace, and he always mis-pronounced that word, calling 
it * pace. ' * 

Here, F. Kelleher broke out into a horse-laugh, and, slapping 
his hand upon his thigh, cried out, ' Oh ! excellent ! your 


F-nnncnce, excellent ! ' ' Now, thero yon are ^viorii:f,' said 
Mezzolkiili : 'you ought not to say excellent, but Excellent.' 

Then he went off into a disquisition on the word 'great,' con- 
tending that, according to all analogy, it should be pronounced 
like ' gr^ft ' — for that the diphthong ea is so pronounced in 
alnaost all, if not in every word, in which it occurs; and he in- 
stanced these words : — ' eagle, meat, beat, fear,^ and some 
others. And he said Lord Chesterfield thought the same, and 
considered it a vulgarism to pronounce it like 'grate.' He next 
spoke about the Welsh language — but I really quite forget 
what he said : I only remember that the impression left on me 
was that he knew Welsh also." 

As to the extent of his acquaintance with English 
literature, my own personal knowledge is very limited. 
His only allusion to the subject which I recollect, 
was a question which he put to me about the com- 
pletion of ^loore's History of Ireland. He expressed 
a strong feeling of regret that we had not some Irish 
History, as learned, as impartial, and as admirable in 
its style, as Lingard's History of England. 

This is a point, however, on which we have the 
concurring testimony of a number of English visi- 
tors, extending over a period of nearly thirty years. 
The report of Mr. Harford in 1817, has been already 
quoted ; Dr. Cox of Southampton, spoke with high 
admiration of the Cardinal's powers as an English 
critic. Cardinal Wiseman assures me that " he often 
heard him speaking on English style, and criticizing 
our writers with great justness and accuracy, lie 
certainly," adds the Cardinal, " knew the language 
and its literature far better than many an Englisli 

gentleman." With Mr. Henry Grattan, then (in the 


year 1843,) member of Parliament for Meatli, he 
held a long conversation on the English language 
and literature, especially its poets. 

" He spoke in English," says Mr. Giattan, " and with great 
rapidity. He talked of Milton, Pope, Gray, and Chaucer. Milton, 
he observed, was our English Hoiner, but he was formed by the 
study of Dante, and of the Prophets. On Gray's Elegy, 
and on Moore's Melodies, he dwelt with great delight ; of the 
latter he repeated some passages, and admired them extremely. 
Chaucer, he said, was taken from Boccaccio. He added that 
Milton, besides his merit as an English poet, also wrote very 
pretty Italian poetry. Talking of French literature, he said 
that, properly speaking, the French have no poetry : 'they have 
too much poetry in their prose,' said he, ' and besides they want 
the heart that is necessary for genuine poetry.'" 

But the most extraordinary example of Mezzo- 
fan ti's minute acquaintance with English literature 
that I have heard, has been communicated to me 
by Mr. Badeley, who found him quite familiar with an 
author so little read, even by I'^nglishmen, as Hudibras ! 

" The Cardinal," says Mr. Badeley, " received me most 
gracionslv ; his first question was, ' Well, what language .shall 
we talk ?' I said, 'Your eminence's English is doubtless far better 
than my Italian, and therefore we had better speak English.' He 
accordingly spoke English to me, in the most easy and natural 
manner, and the conversation soon turned upon the English 
lancjuage, and upon English literature ; and his reference to some 
of our principal authors, such as Milton, and others of that 
class, shewed me that he was well acquainted with them. We 
talked of translations, and I mentioned that the most extraordi- 
nary translation I had ever seen was that of Hudibras in French. 
He quite started with astonishment. 'Hudibras in French! 
impossible — it cannot be !' I assincd hiui that it was so, and 


tlial I li-id (lie book. ' Bui how is it possible,' said he, ' to tvans- 
Jale such a book ? The rhymes, the wit, the jokes, are the 
material points of tlie work — and it is impossible to translat(3 
these — you cannot give them in French !' I told him that, strange 
as it might seem, they were very admirably preserved in the 
translation, the measure and versification being the same, and the 
])oint and s])irit of the original maintained with the utmost fidelity. 
He seemed quite lost in wonder, and almost incredulous — re- 
peating several times, * Hudibras in French ! Hudibras in 
French! Most extraordinary — I never heard of such a thing '' 
During the rest of our interview, he broke out occasionally witli 
the same exclamations; and, as I took leave, he again asked me 
about the book. I said that it was rather scarce, as it had been 
published many years ago;* but, that I had a copy, which I 
should be happy to send him, if he would do me the honour of 
accepting it. Unfortunately, on my return to England, before 
I could find anybody to take charge of it for him, he died." 

The very capacity to appreciate *' the rhymes, the 
"vvit, the jokes," of Hudibras, in itself implies no com- 
mon mastery of English. How few even among 
learned Englishmen, could similarly appreciate Berni, 
Pulci, Scarrou, or Gresset, not to speak of the minor 
humourists of France or Italy ! 

In all this, however, I have been anticipating. My 
own conversations with him, during my first visit to 
Rome, had but little reference to languages or to any 
kindred subject. He questioned me chiefly about our 
college, about the general condition of the Church in 
Ireland, and the relations of religious parties in 
Ireland and England. My sojourn in Rome occurred 

• In 3 vols., 12ino., London, 1737. It contains tbe original and the 
translation in parallel pages. The author was SieurTownley the well- 
known collector, and a member of the distinguished catholic family of 
that name. The translation is certainly most curiously exact in letter 
and in spirit, and fully deserves all that Mr. Badeley has said of it. 


at a time of great religious excitement in tlie latter 
country. The Tractarian Movement had reached its 
highest point of interest. The secessions from the 
ranks of Anglicanism had already become so numer- 
ous as to attract the attention of foreign churches. 
The strong assertion of catholic principles brought 
cut by the Hampden Controversy ; the steady ad- 
.vancc in tone which the successive issues of the 
Tracts for the Times, and still more of the " British 
Critic," had exhibited ; above all, the almost com- 
plete identification in doctrine with the decrees of the 
Council of Trent, avowed in the celebrated Tract 90 ; 
had created everywhere a confident hope that many 
and extensive changes were imminent in England : 
and there were not a few among the best informed 
foreign Catholics, who were enthusiastic in their 
anticipation of the approaching reconciliation of that 
country with the Church. It was almost exclusively 
on this topic that Cardinal Mezzofanti spoke during 
my several interviews with him, in 1841. He was 
already well informed as to the general progress of 
the movement ; but he enquired anxiously about 
individuals, and especially about the authors of the 
Tracts for the Times. I was much struck by the 
extent and the accuracy of his information on the 
subject, as well as by the justice of his views. He 
was well acquainted with the relations of the High 
and Low Church parties and with their history. 

"Rest assured," he one day said to me, " that it is 
to individual conversions you are to look in England. 
There will be no general approximation of the 


Cliuirhes. This is not the first time tliese |)i-iiu'i|)lGs 
have been popuhir for a, wliile in the English Church. 
It was the same at the time of Laud, and again in the 
time of the Catholic King, James 11. But no general 
movement followed. Many individuals became Catho-- 
lics ; but the mass of the public still remained Pro- 
testant, and were even more violent iifterwards.'' 

More than once during the many outbursts of fan- 
aticism, which we have since that time witnessed in 
England, I have called to mind this wise and far- 
seeing prediction. 

But, although the Cardinal did not partake in the 
anticipation, which some indulged, of a general move- 
ment of the English Church towards Rome, his 
interest in the conversion of individuals was most 
anxious and animated. It was his favourite subject 
of conversation with English visitors at this period. 
Mr. G rattan has kindly permitted me to copy from his 
journal an account of one of his interviews with the 
Cardinal, (a few months after this date) which des- 
cribes a half serious, h.df jocular, attempt on the part 
of his Eminence to convert him from Protestantism. 
Mrs. Grattan, who is a Catholic, was present during 
the interview. 

Having referred, in the course of a very interest- 
ing discussion on English literature, which the reader 
has already seen, to Sir Thomas More, as the earliest 
model of English prose, the Cardinal observed that 
More was a truly great and good man. 

" ' He made an emniy ol his King,' said he, ' but lie made 
a friend in his Gud.' lie inquired vl' Mrs. Grattan, how it 


happened that I had not changed niv religion, and becunie a 
Catholic — ' Now-a-days/ said he, ' there is no penalty and 
no shame attached to the step ; on the conlrary, a great party in 
England esteem yon the Ujore for it, and many learntd men of 
your own day have set you the example. You have, besides, the 
"venerableBede; you have St. Patrick, too — both the greatest of your 
countrymen in their age ; you have King Alfred, and the Ed- 
wards, all inviting }ou to the Church-' He then approached ine 
in the most affectionate manner, took my hand and pressed it, 
with a mixture of tenderness, drollery, and good nature. ' Now 
vou must change,' he continued. 'You will not be able to 
escape it ; your religion is but three hundred years old : the Catho- 
lic dates from the beginning of Christianity. It is the religion 
of Christ; its head on earth is the Pope — not, as yours once was, 
an old woman, but the Pope !' Here he became quite animated, 
took Mrs. Grattan's hand, and drew her over, holding each of 
us by the hand ; his manner became most fervent, his old eye 
glistened, he looked up to Heaven, and exclaimed, — ' There is 
the place to make a friend !' Then turning to me, he said, ' Ire- 
land is the garden of religion, and you must one day become 
a flower in it.' " 

Mr. Grattan was deeply affected by this remark- 
able interview ; and I may add that I have known 
few Protestant visitors of the Cardinal, who did not 
carry away the most favourable impressions regarding 
him. With all the earnestness and fervour of his own 
religious convictions, he was singularly tolerant and 
forbearing towards the folloAvers of another creed. 
" His gentleness and modesty," writes Chevalier 
(now Baron) Bunsen, " have often struck me. Once, 
some misrepresentations of Lady Morgan in her book 
on Italy, being mentioned in his presence with strong 
vituperation, he gently interposed. " Poor Lady 
Morgan !" said he ; " it is not yet given to her to see 


But although in my conversations with the Cardinal 
in 1841, his Eminence confined himself entirely to En- 
glish, yet on one occasion, at the close of a meeting of 
the Accademia della Cattolica Religione, I heard him 
converse, with every appearance of fluency and ease, 
in six different languages with the various members of 
a group who collected around him ; in Komaic Avith 
Monsignor Missir, a Greek Archbishop ; in German 
with Guido Gorres ; in Magyar with a Hungarian ar- 
tist who accompanied him ; in French with the Abl)e 
La Croix, of the French church of St. Lewis ; in Span- 
ish with a young Spanish Dominican ; and in English 
with myself and my companions. It was only how- 
ever, during a second and more prolonged visit to 
Kome in the first six months of 1843, that 1 was 
witness, in its full reality, of the marvellous gift of 
which I had read and heard so much. 

I was fortunate enough to arrive on Rome in the 
vigil of the great annual " Academy" of the Propa- 
ganda, which, from immemorial time has been held 
during the octave of the Epi})hany, the special fes- 
tival of that institution. It is hardly necessary, in 
speaking of an exercise now so celebrated, to explain 
that this Academy consists of a series of brief ad- 
dresses and recitations, generally speaking in a me- 
trical form, delivered by the students in all the 
various languages which happen at the time to be 
represented in the college. The subjects ot these 
compositions are commonly drawn from the festival 
itself, or from some kindred theme ; and the rapidity 
with which they succeed each other, and the ear- 


nestness and vigour with whicli most of tlicm arc 
delivered, create an impression which hardly any 
other conceivable exhibition could produce. To the 
audience, of course, the greater number of these re- 
citations are an unknown sound ; but the earnest 
manner of the speakers ; their foreign and unwonted 
intonations ; the curious variety of feature and ex- 
pression which they present ; and the unique charac- 
ter of the whole proceeding — gave to the scene an 
interest entirely independent of the recitations them- 
selves considered as literary compositions. 

I never shall forget the impression which I received 
at my first entrance at the>4w^<2 Maxima* on the even- 
ing of Sunday, January 8th, 1843. At the farther 
end of the hall, on an elevated platform, the benches 
of which rose above each other like the seats of a 
theatre, sat the assembled pupils, arranged with some 
view to effect, in the order in which they were to take 
part in the exercise. They seemed of all ages, from 
the dawn of youth to mature manhood. It would 
be difficult to find elsewhere collected together so 
many specimens of the minor varieties of the hu- 
man race Gazing upon the eager faces crowded 
within that little space, one might almost persuade 
himself that he had the Avhole world in miniature 
before him, with all its motley tribes and races — ^ 

Che coiiii)ieiider non puo pvosa ne verso : — 
Da India, dal Catai, Marrooco, e Spagna. 

Some of the vai-ieties, and perhaps those which 
present the most marked physiological contrasts with 

" The exhibition at present, and for some jears back, is held in the 
church of the Propaganda. 


the rest, it is true, were wanting; but till the more 
delicate shades of difference were clearly discernable ; 
the familiar lineaments of the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon 
race ; all the well-known European types of feature 
and complexion ; the endless though highly contrast- 
ed varieties of Asiatic and North A.frican form — the 
classic Indian, the stately Armenian, the calm and 
impassive Chaldee, the solemn Syrian, the fiery Arab, 
the crafty Egyptian, the swarthy Abyssinian, the 
stunted Birman, the stolid Chinese. And yet in all, 
far as they seemed asunder in sentient and intelligent 
qualities, might be traced the common interest of the 
occasion. Each appeared to feel that this — the feast 
of the illumination of the Gentiles — was indeed his 
own peculiar festival. All were lighted up by the 
excitement of the approaching exercise ; and it was 
impossible, looking upon them, and recalling the ob- 
ject which had brought them all together from their 
distant homes, not to give glory to. God for this, the 
most glorious work of his church : in which " Par- 
thians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the inhabitants 
of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and 
Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts 
of Lybia about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews 
also, and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, speak the 
wonderful works of God ; " — not, as of old, in one 
tongue, but each in the tongue of his own people. 

Below the platform were arrayed the auditory. 
The front seats, distinguished by their red drapery, 
were reserved for the Cardinals, of whom several were 
present , — Franzoni, the Cardinal Prefect, with his 


pale and passionless face — the very ideal of self-deny- 
ing spirituality; — the English Cardinal Acton, shrink- 
ing, as it seemed, from the notice which his prominent 
position drew upon him — Castracane,Cardinal Peniten- 
tiary,with the look of earnest and settled purpose which 
he always wore ; — the lively little Cardinal Massimo,* 
in animated and evidently pleasant conversation, with 
two of the Professors, the lamented abate Pal ma and 
abate Graziosi ; — the classic head of Mai, every feature 
instinct with intellectuality — every look bespeaking 
the scholar and the priest. But it need Scarcely be 
said, that on this evening, despite his scant propor- 
tions and unimposing presence, every other claimant 
for notice was forgotten in comparison with the true 
hero of such a scene — the great polyglot Cardinal 
Mezzofanti. He was seated on the extreme right of 
the front rank, and, as I entered, was conversing 
eagerly with a stately looking Greek bishop, Monsig- 
nor Missir, whose towering stature and singularly 
noble head contrasted strongly with the diminutive 
and almost insignificant figure of the great linguist. 

Behind the Cardinals sate a number of foreign 
bishops, prelates, members of religious orders, and other 
distinguished strangers, many of them evidently 
orientals. The general assembly at tlie back included 

* Of the princely house of Massimo, which is said to claim descent 
from the great Cunctutur. The marked contrast between the dim- 
inutive stature of the Cardinal, and the noble and commanding figure 
of the Prince, his elder brother, gave occasion to one of those lively 
mots for which Rome is celebrated. The brothers were called, 
*' II Principe M'ts.simo, e<l il Cardinal Mciiomu." 


most of the literary foreigners then in Kouu', 
among whom were more tlian one English clergyman, 
at that time the object of many an anxious prayer 
and aspiration, of which we have since been permitted 
to witness the happy fulfilment in their accession to 
the fold of the Church. 

The exercises of the evening, besides a Latin proem 
and an epilogue in Italian, comprised forty-eight 
recitations on " the Illumination of the Gentiles ;" 
but, as these inchuled several varieties of Latin 
and Italian versification, the total number of 
languages represented in the Academy was only 
forty-two. The Latin proem was delivered by a young 
Irish student from the centre of the platform ; the 
other speakers delivering their })arts from the i)laces 
assigned to them by the programme. Most of the 
languages were spoken by natives of the several 
countries where they prevail ; and, where no native 
representative could be found, a student remarkable 
for his proficiency in the language was selected in- 
stead. It thus happened that the Hebrew psalm was 
recited by a Dutchman ; the Spanish ode fell to a native 
of Stockholm ; and the soft measures of the Italian 
terzine and anacreontics were committed to the tender 
mercies of two youths from beyond the Tweed ! 

With those of the odes which I w\as in some degree 
able to follow, the Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, and 
German, I was much pleased. They appeared to me re- 
markably simple, elegant, and in good taste. But for 
the rest, it Avould be idle to attempt to convey an idea 
of the strange effect produced by the rapid succession 
of unknoAvn sounds, uttered with every diversity of 


intonation,* accompanied by every variety of gesture, 
and running through every interval in the musical 
scale, from " syllables which breathe of the soft 
south," to the 

Harsh northern wliistlhii:;, grunting, i^uitiual, 

That we're obliged to hiss, and spit, and sputter all. 

Some of the recitations were singularly soft 
and haraionious ; some carae, even upon an un- 
instructed ear, with a force and dignity, almost 
independent of the sense which they conveyed ; some 
on the contrary, especially when taken in connexion 
with the gestures and intonation of the reciter, were 
indescribably ludicrous. Among the former was the 
Syriac ode, recited by Joseph Churi, a youth since 
known in Endish literature. Amon^j the latter, the 
most curious were a Chinese Eclogue, and a Peguan Dia- 
logue. The speakers in both cases were natives, and I 
was assured by a gentleman Avho was present at the 
exercise, and who had visited China more than once, 
that their recitation was a perfect reproduction of the 
tone and manner of the native theatre of China. 

Throughout the entire proceedings Cardinal Mezzo- 
fanti was a most attentive, and evidently an anxious 
listener. Every one of the young aspirants to pub- 
lic favour was personally and familiarly known to 

• These were (1,) Hebrew; (2,) Syriac; (3,) Samaritan; (4,) 
ancient Chaldee ; (5,) Modern Chaldee ; (6.) Arabic ; (7,) ancient 
Armenian; (8,) modern Armenian; (9,) Turkish; (10,) Persian; 
(1 1.) Albanian ; (12,) Sabean ; — a dialect of Syriac, which Adelung 
prefers to call Zal>ian ; — (13,) Maltese ; (14,) Greek; (15,) Romaic; 
(16,) Ethiopic ; (17,) Coptic; (18,) Amarina ; (I9») Tamul ; 
(20,) Koordish ; (21,) Kunkan, — one of the dialects of the Bengal 
coast ;— (22,) Georgian ; (23,) Welsh ; (24,) Irish ; (26,) Gadic ; 


liim. i\Iany of the pieces, moreover, upon these 
occasions, were his own composition, or at least revised 
by him ; and thus, besides his paternal anxiety for 
the success of his young friends, he generally had 
somewhat of the interest of an author in the literary 
part of the performance. It was plain, too, that, for 
the young speakers themselves, his Eminence was, in 
his turn, the principal object of consideration ; and 
it was amusing to observe, in the case of one of 
the oriental recitations, that the speaker almost ap- 
peared to forget the presence of the general auditory, 
and to address himself entirely to the spot where Car- 
dinal Mezzofanti sate. 

At the close of the exercises, as soon as the inter- 
esting assemblage of the platform broke up, a motley 
group was speedily formed around the good-naturedCar- 
dinal, to hear his criticisms, or to receive his congratu- 
lations on the performance ; and I then was witness 
for the first time of what I saw on more than one 
subsequent occasion — the almost inconceivable versa- 
tility of his wonderful faculty, and his power of 
tiying from language to language with the rapidity 
of thought itself, as he was addressed in each in 

(26,) English ; (27,) Illyrian ; (28.) Bulgarian ; (29,) Polish ; (30,) 
Peguan ; (31,) Swedish; (32,) ancient German ; (33,) modern Ger- 
man ; (34,) Swiss German ; (35,) Dutch ; (36,) Spanish ; (39.) 
Catalan ; (38,) Portuguese ; (39,) French ; (40,) ancient Chinese ; 
(41,) Chinese of Tchang-si ; (42,) Chinese of Canton. 

I was somewhat surprised to miss Russian from the catalogue. In 
the Academy of the present year, it appears in its proper place. See 
" Academia Poliglotta nel Collegio Urbaiio de Prop. Fide, per I'Epi- 
faniadel 1858," p. 38. 


succession ; — hardly ever hesitating, or ever con- 
founding a word or interchanging a construction. 
Most of the members of the polyglot group which 
thus crowded around him and plied him with this lin- 
guistic fusilade, were of course unknown to me ; 
but I particularly noticed among the busiest of the 
questioners, the Chinese youths who had taken part 
in their native eclogue, and a strange, mercurial, 
monkey -like, but evidently most intelligent lad, whom 
I afterwards recognized as one of the speakers in 
the Peguan Dialogue.* I was gratified, too, to see 
a gap which I had observed in the programme of the 
exercises — the omission of the Russian language — sup- 
plied by his Eminence in this curious after-perform- 
ance. A Russian gentleman, who had sate near me 
during the evening, now joined the group assembled 
around the Cardinal, and good-humouredly com- 
plained of the oversight. His Eminence, without a 
moment's thought, replied to him in Russian ; — in 
which language a lengthened conversation ensued 
between them, with every evidence of ease and 
fluency on the part of the Cardinal. Although I 
have never since learned the name of this traveller, 
I noted the circumstance with peculiar interest at the 
time, because he had already established a claim 
upon my remembrance, by selecting (without know- 
ing me as an Irishman,) among all the recitations of 

* This youth, as I afterwards learned, was called by the strange 
name, Moses Ngnau. He was a native of Pegu, and returned to 
his own mission in 1850 ; but unhappily his career was terminated 
by an early death. 


the evening, as especially harmonious and expressive 
in its sounds, the Irish Ode; which had been delivered 
with great character and effect by a young student 
of the County Mayo. 

During my first visit to Rome, I had heard a great 
deal of this curious power of maintaining a conver- 
sation simultaneously with several individuals, and 
in many different languages ; but I Avas far from 
being prepared for an exhibition of it so wonderful 
as that which I have witnessed. I cannot, at this 
distance of time, say what was the exact number of 
the group which stood around him, nor can I assert 
that they all spoke different languages ; but making 
every deduction, the number of speakers cannot have 
been less than ten or twelve ; and I do not think 
that he once hesitated for a sentence or even for a 
word ! Many very wonderful examples of the 
power of dividing the attention between different 
objects have been recorded. Julius Caesar, if w(; 
believe Pliny, w\as able to listen with his ears, 
read with liis eyes, write with his pen, and dictate 
with his lips, at the same time, Mordaunt, Earl of 
Peterborough, often dictated to six or seven secretaries 
simultaneously. Walter Scott, when engaged in his 
Life of Napoleon, used to dictate fluently to his ama- 
nuensis, while he was, at the same time, taking down 
and reading books, consulting papers, and comparing 
authorities on the difficult points of the history which 
were to follow. The wonderful powers of the same 
kind possessed by Pliillidor, the chess-player, too, are 


well known.* But I cannot tliink that there is any 
example of the faculty of mental self-multiplication, 
if it can be thus called, upon record, so wonderful as 
that exhibited by Mezzoftinti in these, so to speak, 
linguistic tournaments, in which he held the lists 
against all opponents, not successively, but at once. 
Guido Gorres, describing the rapidity of his transi- 
tions from one language to another, compares it to "a 
bird flitting from spray to spray." The learned Ar- 
menian, Father Arsenius, speaking of the perfect dis- 
tinctness of his use of each, and of the entire absence 
of confusion or intermixture, says his change from 
language to language " was like passing from one 
room into another." " Mezzofanti himself told me," 
writes Cardinal Wiseman, " that whenever he began 
to speak in one tongue, or turned into it from another, 
he seemed to forget all other languages except that 
one. He has illustrated to me the difficulty he had 
to encounter in these transitions, bv takin"^ a com- 
mon word, such as ' bread,' and giving it in several 
cognate languages, as Russian, Polish, Bohemian, 
Hungarian, &c., the differences being very slight, 
and difficult to remember. Yet he never made the 
least mistake in any of them." 

When Rev. John Strain, now of St. Andrew's, 
Dumfries, wlio assures me that, while he was in 

* The journals of this week, (.March 18,) relate a most astonishing 
feat of the great modern chess-player, Dr. Harwitz. He has just 
played three games simultaneously, against three most eminent play- 
ers, without once seeing any of the boards, or even entering tlie 
room in which the moves were made, during the entire time ! He 
won two of the games — the third being a drawn one. 


the Propaganda, he often heard Mezzofanti speak 
seven or eight hmgiiages in the course of half an 
hour, asked him how it was that he never jumbled or 
confused them. Mezzofanti laughingly asked in his 

"Have you ever tried on a pair of green spectacles f" 

" Yes," replied his companion. 

" Well," said Mezzofanti, '* while you wore these 
spectacles everything was green to your eyes. It 
is precisely so with me. While I am speaking any 
language, for instance, Russian, I put on my Russian 
spectacles^ and for the time, they colour everything 
Russian. I see all my ideas in that language alone. 
If I pass to another language, / have only to change 
the spectacles^ and it is the same for that language 

This amusing illustration perfectly describes the 
phenomenon so far as it fell under observation ; but, 
so far as I am aware, no one has attempted to ana- 
lyse the mental operation by which these astounding 
external effects were produced. The faculty, whatever 
it was, may have been improved and sharpened by 
exercise ; but there is no part of the extraordinary 
gift of this great linguist so clearly exceptional, and 
so unprecedented in the history of the faculty of 

A few weeks after the Propaganda academy, I met 
his Eminence at the levee of the newly created Car- 
dinal Cadolini, ex-Secretary of the Sacred Congrega- 
tion. Recognizing me at once as " the Maynooth 
Professor," he addressed me laughingly in Irish : 


Cio5»r ^^ c>" ? "How are you?" It has repeatedly been 
stated that he knew Irish ; and that language is ac- 
tually enumerated in more than one published list of 
the languages which he spoke. Had it not been for 
his own candour on the occasion in question, I 
myself should have carried away the same impression 
from our interview. But on my declaring my ina- 
bility to enter into an Irish conversation, he at once 
confessed that, had I been able to go farther, I 
should have found himself at fault ; as, although he 
knew so much as enabled him to initiate a conversa- 
tion, and to make his way through a book, he had not 
formally studied the Irish language. Nevertheless 
that he was acquainted with its general characteris- 
tics, and the leading principles of its inflections and 
grammatical structure, its analogies with G^lic, as 
well as their leading points of difference, and its gen- 
eral relations with the common Celtic family, I was 
enabled to ascertain in a subsequent interview, in 
which I was accompanied by an accomplished Irish 
scholar, the late Rev. Dr. Murphy of Kinsale. Dr. 
Murphy was much struck with the accuracy and 
soundness of his views. 

One of the observations which he made during this 
interview was afterwards the occasion of no little 
amusement to us. During an audience which Dr. 
Murphy, accompanied by Dr. Cullen, then Rector of 
the Irish College, had had a few days before with 
the Pope, Gregory XVI., a new work of Sir Wil- 
liam Betham, Etruria Celtica — in which an at- 
tempt is made to establish the identity of the 
Irish and Etrurian languages, and in which the 


celebrated Eugiibian inscriptions are explained as 
Irish, — had been presented to the Pope. His holiness, 
who was much interested in Etruscan antiqui- 
ties, on hearing from Dr. Cullen the nature and 
object of the work, had expressed great amusement at 
this latest discovery in a matter which had already 
been explained in at least a dozen different and con- 
flicting ways. We mentioned this to the Cardinal. 

"His Holiness is perfectly right," he replied. "There 
is no possible meaning which could not be taken out 
of it, if you only grant the licence which these anti- 
quarians claim. The Eugubian tables, in different 
systems,* have been explained by some as a calendar 
of Festivals ; by others as a code of laws ; by others 
as a system of agricultural precepts. It is no won- 
der that your Irish author explains them as Irish. 
But I will venture to say that, if you only take any 
common Italian or Latin sentence, and apply to it 
the same system of interpretation, you may explain 
it as Irish, and find it make excellent sense." 

On leaving his Eminence, we resolved to put his 
suggestion to the test. We took the first sentence 
in the first of F. Segneri's sermons which opened in 
the volume. I have since tried, but in vain, to find 
the passage : and I only recollect about it, that it re- 
lated to the ardent desire of our Divine Lord, that 
the light of his gospel should shine among men. Dr. 

* The raost recent information regarding this curious subject is 
conUined in a report by Dr. Aufrecht, which Bunsen has printed 
in his Christianity and Mankind, III., p. 87, and foil; See also 
Mommsen's Unter-italische Dialekten. 


Murphj, without exceeding in the slightest degree 
the license which Sir W. Betham allows himself, in 
dealing with the Eugubian inscriptions, converted 
this Italian sentence into an Irish one, which, to our 
infinite amusement, literally rendered, ran as follows : 
" In sailing into the harbour, they came to the place 
of his habitation ; and they took a vast quantity of 
large specked trouts, hy the great virtue of white Irish 
fishing rods /" 

The Cardinal repeated to Dr. Murphy during this 
visit what he had before said, that he did not pretend to 
speak Irish, but added that, if he had a little practice, he 
would easily acquire it. I had already heard the same 
from the Archbishop of Tuam, who knew him on his 
first arrival in Rome. I have since been told that, 
in the following winter, he formally addressed him- 
self to the study, w^ith the assistance of the late Rev. 
Dr. Lyons of Erris, who was then in Rome ; but I 
have no means of testing the truth of the statement, 
or of ascertaining the extent of his progress. 

This discussion regarding the Irish language natu- 
rally suggested a similar inquiry as to the Cardinal's 
knoAvledge of the kindred Gt'^lic. The Rev. John 
Strain, wdio knew him in 1832, when he first came 
to Rome, informs me that in that year he had no 
knowledge whatever of the Gaelic language. He got 
a friend of Mr. Strain's to repeat some sentences in it 
for him, and expressed a wish to procure some books 
for the purpose of learning it. I find from the cata- 
logue of his library that he did procure a few Gaelic 
books : and Rev. John Gray of Glasgow, who was a 


student of the Propaganda till the year 1841, informs 
me that he at that time knew the language, but 
spoke it very imperfectly.* 

An American gentleman whom I met one day in 
the Cardinal's ante-chamber, showed me an impromptu 
English couplet which his eminence had just written 
for him, on his asking for some memorial of their 
interview. I am not able now to recall this distich to 
memory ; but it is only one of numberless similar 
tokens which the Cardinal presented to his visitors 
and friends. One of his favourite amusements con- 
sisted in improvising little scraps of verse in various 
languages, for the most part embodying some pious 
or moral sentiment, which he flung off with the rapidity 
of thought, and without the slightest effort. Few of 
those which I have seen, indeed, can be said to exhibit 
much poetical genius. There is but little trace of 
imagination in them, and the sentiments, though 
excellent, are generally commonplace enough. But 
while, considered as a test of command over the lan- 
guages in which they are written, even the most 
worthless of them cannot be regarded as insignificant, 
there are many of them which are very prettily turned, 
and display no common power of versification. 

It is difficult to recover scraps like these, frag- 
mentary of their own nature, and scattered over every 
country of the earth. I have sought in vain for 
oriental specimens, although the Cardinal distributed 
numbers of them to the students of the Propaganda 
at their leaving college. In a sheet of autographs 
prefixed to this volume will be found verses in sixteen 

* Letter of January 15, 1857. 


diflferent languages. A few others are given in the 
appendix. I shall jot down here two or three speci- 
ments of his classical epigrams which have fallen in 
my way. 

Most of them arose out of the very circumstance 
of his being asked for such a token of remembrance. 

For instance, on one occasion when the request was 
addressed to him in Greek, he wrote : 

'EXkddog rj^urocg sfj,s ^rj'j^aaiv. 'EXXdBoi avdriv 

Ou fdoyyo? (p&oyyoim a/J!,sij3irai, si fj^ri 6/io7og, 
AXX' dvo ffufi(pu)V(iiv yiyvsrai dp/Movtri. 
Nl/v ds rivet, Tvu/MTjV huiSM dirSvTi ; riv dXXrjv 
'H — 'Qsov h vderi bii fiXUiv xgaS/jj.' 

So again, when a visitor begged him to write his 
name in an album, he gave, instead, this pretty 

Pauca dedi — nomen. Tu sane pauca petisti, 
Assiduus sed ego te rogo plura — preces. 

In answer to a similar request at another time, he 
replied — 

Accipe quod poscis— nomen. Scribatur ut ipsum 
In coelo, ad Dominum tu bone funde preces. 

On being presented on New Year's day with a pair 
of spectacles by his friend, Dr. Peter Trombetti, of 
Bologna, he wrote : — 

Deficit heu acies oculorum ; instante seneeta ! 
Deficit; — at coniis luinina tu duplicas. 
Lumen utrumque niihi argento diim nocte coruscat 
Haud niihi qui dederit dccidet ex animo. 


A similar present at the next New Year elicited 
the following : — 

Cum vix sufTiciunt oculi niihi node legenti, 
Ecce bonus rursum lumina tu geminas. 
Prospera ut eveniant inultis volventibus aniiis, 
Cuncta tibi, par est me geminaie preces. 

To another of his Bolognese friends, the Canonico 
Tartaglia, now rector of the Pontifical seminary, who 
begged some memorial, he sent the following pretty 
epigram : — 

Sajpe ego veisiculos heic dicto, stans pede iu uuo ; 
Canuina sed fingo nulla linenda cedro. 
Qualiacumque cano velox heu dissipat aura ! 
Unum de innumeris hoc mihi vix superest, 
Mittimus hoc unum interea. Exiguum accipe donum 
Etenia3 veteris pignus amiciliae. 

Any one who has ever tried to turn a verse in any 
foreign tongue, will agree with me in regarding the 
rapidity with which these trifles were written, as one 
of the most curious evidences of the writer's mastery 
over the many languages in which he is known to 
have indulged this fancy. The really pretty Dutch 
verses — verses as graceful in sentiment as they arc 
elegant in language — in reply to Dr. Wap*s address, 
were penned in Dr. Wap's presence and with great 
rapidity. Father Legrelle's Flemish verses were 
dashed off with equal quickness. The American of 
whom I spoke told me that the Cardinal wrote aluiost 
without a moment's thought. It was the same fur 
the lady mentioned by Dr. Wap, although the subject 
of these verses arose during the interview ; and even 


the Persian stanza which he wrote for Dr. Tholuck, 
and which " contained several pretty hSu/irignc" cost 
him only about half an hour ! How many of those 
who consider themselves most perfect in French, 
Italian, or German, have ever ventured even upon a 
single line of poetry in any of them ? 

I must not omit another circumstance which 1 
myself observed, and which struck me forcibly as il- 
lustrating the singular nicety of his ear, and still 
more the completeness with which he threw himself 
into all the details of every language which he cul- 
tivated ; — I mean his manner and accent in pro- 
nouncing Latin in conversation with natives of dif- 
ferent countries. One day I was speaking to him 
in company with Guide Gorres, when he had occasion 
to quote to me Horace's line. 

Si paulmn a suinmo decessit, vergit ad inuim : — 

which he pronounced quite as I should have pro- 
nounced it, and without any of the peculiarities of 
Italian pronunciation. He turned at once to Gorres, 
and added — 

" Or, as you would say : 

Si powhun a soommo rfe^sessit, verghit ad imum, 

introducing into it every single characteristic of the 
German manner of pronouncing the Latin language. 
I have heard the same from other foreigners. It was 
amusing, too, to observe that he had taken the trou- 
ble to note and to acquire the peculiar expletive or 
interjectional sounds, with which, as it is well known, 
natives of diiFerent countries unconsciously inter- 
lard their conversation, and the absence or misuse 


of which will sometimes serve to discover the foreign 
origin of one who seems to speak a language with 
every refinement of correctness.* The Englishman's 
"ah !" the Frenchman's " oh !" the whistling inter- 
jection of the Neapolitan, the grunt of the Turk, the 
Spaniard's nasal twang — were all at his command. 
My brief and casual intercourse with the 
Cardinal woidd not entitle me to speak of his cha- 
racter aud disposition, were it not that my impressions 
are but an echo of all that has been said and written 
before me, of his cheerful courtesy, his open-hearted 
frankness, and his unaffected good nature. To all his 
visitors of whatever degree, he was the same — gay, 
amiable, and unreserved. With him humility Avas 
an instinct. It seemed as thou2;h he never thought 
of himself, or of any claim of his to consideration. 
He would hardly permit the simple mark of respect — 
the kissing of the ring which ordinarily accompanies 
the salutation of one of high ecclesiastical dignity in 
Italy ; aud his demeanour was so entirely devoid of 
assumption of superiority that the humblest visitor 
was at once made to feel at home in his company. 

•Cardinal Wiseman told me of a priest who, after having lived for 
twenty years in France, was mortified to find himself discovered as 
an Englishman, by the way in which he said " ah !" in expression 
of his acknowledgment of an answer given to him by a person to whom 
he addressed a question in a crowd. This may explain an anecdote 
in Moore's Diary, which he could not himself understand. A lady 
was coming in to dinner, and, on her passing through the ante-room, 
where Talleyrand was standing, he looked up and exclaimed insignifi- 
cantly " ah !" In the course of the dinner, the lady, having asked hira 
across the table why he had uttered the exclamation of " oh" ! on her 


His conversation was uniformly gay and cheerful, 
and no man entered more heartily into the spirit of 
any little pleasantry which might arise. On one oc- 
casion, upon a melting summer day, as he was shewing 
the magnificent Giulio Clovio Dante, in the Vatican 
library, to a well-known London clergyman, the lat- 
ter, in his delight at one of the beautiful miniatures 
by which it is illustrated — a moonlight scene — was in 
the act of pointing out with his moist finger some 
particular beauty which struck him, when Mezzofanti, 
horror-struck at the danger, caught his arm, 

" Softly, my dear Doctor," he playfully interposed : 
" these things may be looked at with the eyes, but 
not with the fingers ." 

He delighted, too, in puns, and was equally ready 
in all languages. He laughed heartily at Cardinal 
Rivarola's Italian pun against himself, about the 
orecehini ;* and one day, while he was speaking Ger- 
man with Guido Gorres, the latter having made some 
allusion to his Eminence's increasing gray hairs, 
and spoken of him as a weiss-haar (white-haired,) 

entrance, Talleyrand, ^vith a grave self-vindicatory look, answered ; 
Madartie, je n'ai pas dit oh ! j'ai dit ab, (^Memoirs VIL, p. 5i) 

One of the standing jokes against the capuchins in Italy is about 
an "alphabet" which they are supposed to learn during the noviciate, 
and which consists exclusively of the interjection O ! — which single 
sound, by the varieties of look, gesture, air, and expression which ac- 
coinpany it, is made to embody almost every conceivable meaning. 

Much light is thrown on more than one obscure passage in the La- 
tin classics by the gesticulations which still prevail in modern Italy, 
especially in Naples. See the Canon De Jorio's extremely curious and 
learned book, " Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel Gestire Na- 

• Supra, p. 379. 


"Ach !" he replied with a gentle smile, not untinged 
with melancholy ; — " ach ! gabe Gott dass ich, wie 
weiss-haavy so auch weiser geworden ware.* 

It will easily be inferred from this, that, among 
etymologies, he was especially attracted by those which 
involved a play upon words : — if they admitted a pun 
so much the better. He was much amused by Herr 
Fleck's suggestion, that the name Mezzofanti, was 
derived from 'ts.v fisauj <pa'mrai ; and Cardinal Wiseman 
told me that once, after learnedly canvassing the various 
etymologies suggested for Felsina, the ancient name 
of his native city, Bologna, he laughingly brought 
the discussion to a close by suggesting that pro- 
bably it was Fe Vasina, (the ass made it.) 

Probably it was to this taste he was indebted 
for that familiarity with Hudibras — a writer, other- 
wise so unattractive to a foreigner — which took Mr. 
Badeley by surprise. 

• The pun is less observable in writing than in speaking ; the 
words iveiss-haar and weiser resemble each other more closely in 
sound, than in appearance. It might be rendered : 

" Would to God, that, as I have become whiter, so I had also 
grown wUer ;" 



In the midst of the honours and occupations of his 
new dignity, Cardinal Mezzofanti sustained a severe 
affliction in the death of his favourite nephew, Mon- 
signor Minarelli — the Giuseppino (Joe) so often 
commemorated in his early correspondence. This ami- 
able and learned ecclesiastic instead of accompanying 
his uncle to Rome, where the most brilliant prospects 
were open to him, preferred to pursue the quiet and 
useful career of university life, in which he had 
hitherto been associated with him in Bologna. By 
successive steps, he had risen to the Rectorate of the 
University j and in recognition of his services to that 
institution, the honorary dignity of a prelate of the 
first class in the Roman Court — popularly styled del 
ma?itelletto — had been conferred on him by the Pope. 
The Cardinal, as is plain from his own letters and 
those of his Bologna friends, was warmly at- 
tached to him. While he lived in Bologna 
Giuseppe was his friend and companion, rather than 
his pupil ; and the young man's early death was felt 


the more deeply by him, from the congeniality of 
tastes and studies which had always subsisted 
between them. 

The Cardinal's sister, Teresa, (mother of the de- 
ceased prelate,) although she was ten years his senior, 
was still living in their old home at Bologna, and he 
continued to correspond with her up to the time of 
his death. His letters to her are all exceedingly simple 
and unaffected — so entirely of a domestic character, 
and without public interest, that, if I translate one of 
them here — the latest which lias come into my hands 
— it is merely as a specimen of the warmth and 
tenderness, as well as deeply religious character of the 
Cardinal's affection for his sister and for her children. 

" We are on the eve of your Saint's Day, my dearest sister. 
I am to say Mass on that day in the Church of the Servites ; but 
I shall ofl'er it /'or you, praying with all the fervor of my heart that 
God may long preserve you in health, and console yon under 
your affliction, and that your holy patroness may protect you, and 
obtain for you all the graces of which you stand in need. I wish 
to mark the occasion by a little token of my affection, and I have 
already written to Gesnalde to transmit it to you. It is a mere 
trifle, but I know that you will only look, as you have always 
done in past years, to the person it comes from, and that you will 
give it value by accepting it, and by corresponding with me in 
recommending me, as I do you, to the special favour of the Al- 
mighty. As being my elder sister, you used always, when we 
were children, to pray for your little brother ; and I know that 
you still continue the practice; I am most grateful for it, and I try 
to make you every return. 

Your sons, and my niece Anna unite with me in their aflec- 
ionate wishes, and beg your blessing. May God bestow Lis 
most abundant blessings on you !" 

The history of the later years of the Cardinal's life 


presents scarcely any incidents of any special interest. 
Few of the reports of the foreigners who met him at 
this period, differ in any material particulars from 
those which we have already seen. I shall content my- 
self, therefore, with two or three of them, which may 
be taken as specimens of the entire, but which are se- 
lected also with a view to serve in guiding the reader in 
his estimate, not merely of the general attainments of 
the Cardinal as a linguist, but of his proficiency in 
the languages of the writers themselves, and in other 
languages, not specially commemorated hitherto. 

We have already passingly alluded to the account 
of Mezzofanti given by the Rev. Ingraham Kip, a 
clergyman of the Episcopalian Church in America : 
but the details into which this gentleman enters, 
regarding his Eminence's knowledge of the English 
language and literature, are so important, that it 
would be unpardonable to pass them by. 

" He is a small lively looking man," says Mr. Kip, "appa- 
rently over seventy. He speaks English with a slight foreign 
accent — yet remarkably correct. Indeed, I never before met 
with a foreigner who could talk for ten minutes without using 
some word with a shade of meaning not exactly right ; yet, in 
the long conversation 1 had iviih the Cardinal, I detected 
nothing like this. He did not use a single expression or word 
in any way which was not strictly and idiomatically correct. 
He converses, too, without the slightest hesitation, never being at 
the least loss for the proper phrase. 

In talking about him some time before to an ecclesiastic, 1 
(juoled Lady Blessington's remark, ' that she did not believe he 
luul made much progress in the literature of these forty-two 
languages ; but was rather like a man who spent his time in 
manufacturing keys to palaces which he had not time to enter ;' 
and I inquired whether this was true. * Try him,' said he. 


laughing; and, having now the opportunity, I endeavourud to do 
so. I led him, therefore, to talk of Lord Byron and his works, 
and then of English literature generally. He gave me, in the 
course of his conversation, quite a discussion on the subject 
which was the golden period of the English language ; and of 
course fixed on the days of Addison. He drew a comparison 
between the characteristics of the French, Italian, and Spanish 
languages ; spoke of Lockhart's translation from the Spanish, 
and incidentally referred to various other English writers. He 
then went on to speak of American literature, and paid high 
compliments to the pure style of some of our best writers. He 
expressed an opinion that, with many, it had been evidently 
formed by a careful study of the old authors — those ' wells of 
English undefiled ' — and, that within the last fifty years we had 
imported fewer foreign words than had been done in England. 
He spoke very warmly of the works of Mr. Fennimore Cooper, 
whose name, by the way, is better known on the continent than 
that of any other American author." 

As Mr. Kip, unfortunately, was not acquainted 
Avith any of the Indian languages of North America, 
he was unable to test the extent of the Cardinal's 
attainments in these languages. His account, never- 
theless, is not without interest. 

" In referring to our Indian languages, he remarked, that the 
only one with which he was well acquainted was the Algonquin, al- 
though he knew something of the Chippewa and Delaware ; and 
asked whether I understood Algonquin ; I instantly disowned any 
knowledge of the literature of that respectable tribe of Savages; 
for I was afraid the next thing would be a proposal that we should 
continue the conversation in their mellifluous tongue. He learned 
it from an Algonquin missionary, who returned to Rome, and 
lived just long enough to enable the Cardinal to begin this study. 
He had read the works of Mr. Du Ponceau* of Philadelphia, on 
the subject of Indian languages, and spoke very highly of them." 

* This is a mistake. The work published at Philadelphia is not a 
general treatise on the Indian Languages, but a Grammar of the 


It is right to add Mr. Kip's conclusions from 
the entire interview, and his impressions regarding 
the natural and acquired powers of the great linguist. 

" And yet," he concludes, " all this conversation by no means 
satisjied me of the depth of the Cardinal's literary acquirements. 
There was nothing said which gave evidence of more than a super- 
ficial acquaintance with English literature ; the kind of knowledge 
which passes current in society, and which is necessarily picked 
up by one who meets so often with cultivated people of each 
country. His acquirements in words are ceriainly wonderful ; 
but I could not help asking myself their use. I have never yet 
heard of their being of any practical benefit to the world during 
the long life of their possessor. He has never displayed anything 
philosophical in his character of mind ; none of that power of 
combination which enables Schlegel to excel in all questions of 
philology, and gives him a talent for discriminating and a power 
of handling the resources of a language which have never been 

Perhaps the reader will be disposed to regard Mr. 
Kip's criticism as somewhat exigeant in its charac- 
ter ; and to think that, even taking his own report of 
his conversation with the Cardinal, and of the num- 
ber and variety of the English and American writers, 
with whom, and with whose peculiar characteristics, 
he was acquainted — some of them, moreover — as for 
example, Lockhart's Spanish Ballads — a translation 

Lenni-Lennape Language nor is it an original woi'k of Du Ponceau: 
but a translation by him, with notes, from the German MS. of 
David Zeisberger. It is in 4to. and was published at Philadelphia 
in 1827. Du Ponceau's own work on the Indian languages, was pub- 
lished in Paris, 8vo. 1838. 

* Christmas holidays in Rome, by the Rev. Ingraham Kip. 


from a foreign language — most unlikely to attract a 
" superficial " foreigner, be was a little unreasona- 
ble in refusing " to be satisfied with the depth of the 
Cardinal's literary acquirements." For my part, I 
cannot help thinking this interview, even as recorded 
by Mr. Kip, one of the most astonishing incidents in 
the entire history of this extraordinary man. And 
I may add to what is here stated of his familiarity with 
the principal English authors, native and American, 
that, as I am informed by the Rev. Mr. Gray, of 
Glasgow, the Cardinal was also intimately ac- 
quainted with the national literature of Scotland ; 
that he had read many of the works of AYalter 
Scott and Burns ; and that he understood and was 
able to enjoy the LoAvland Scottish dialect, which is 
one of the great charms of both. 

Mr. Kip's impressions as to the Cardinal's want of 
skill in the science of language and of its philosphi- 
cal bearing on history and ethnology, must be admit- 
ted to have more foundation, and are shared by 
several of the scholars who visited him, especially 
those who cultivated ethnology as a particular study. 
1 have reserved for this place a short notice of the 
Cardinal, which has been communicated to me by 
Baron Bunsen, and which, while it does ample justice 
to Mezzofanti's merits as a linguist, puts a very low 
estimate on his accomplishments as a philologer, and 
a critic. The reader will gather from much of 
what has been already said, that I am far from 
adopting this estimate in several of its particulars ; 

but Baron Bunsen's opinion upon any question of 


scholarship or criticism is too important to be over- 

" I saw him first as Abate and Librarian at Bologna, in 1828, 
when travelling through Italy, with the Crown Prince (now King) 
of Prussia. When he came to Rome as head librarian to the Vati- 
can, I have frequently had the pleasure of seeing him in my 
house, and in the Vatican. He was always amiable, humane, 
courteous, and spoke with equal fluency the different languages 
of Europe. His gentleness and modesty have often struck me. 
Once, when some misrepresentations of Lady Morgan in her book on 
Italy, were mentioned before him with very strong vituperation, 
'Poor Lady Morgan!' he said, 'it is not yet given to her to see 
truth.' When complimented by an English lady upon his mi- 
raculous facility in acquiring languages, with the additional obser- 
vation that Charles the Fifth had said, ' as many languages as a 
man knows, so many times he is a man,' he replied, * Well, that 
ought rather to humble us; for it is essential to man to err, and 
therefore, such a man is the more liable to error, if Charles the 
Fifth's observation is true.' 

On the other side, I must confess that I was always struck by the 
observation of an Italian who answered to the question: 'Nonemir- 
acolosodi vedere un uomoparlarequaranta duelingue?' replied, 'Si, 
senzadubbio; mapiu miracoloso ancora e di sentire che questo uouio 
inquarantaduelinguenondiceHte/j/e.' A giantasa linguist, Mezzo- 
fanti certainly was a child as a philologer and philological ciitic. 

He delighted in etymologies, and sometimes he mentioned new 
and striking ones, particularly as to the Romanic languages and 
their dialects. But he could not draw any philosopliical "or his- 
torical consequences from that circumstance, beyond the first 
self-evident elements. He had no idea of philosophical grammar. 
I have once seen his attempt at decyphering a Greek inscription, 
and never was there such a failure. Nor has he left or published 
anything worth notice. 

I explain this by his ignorance of all realities. He remem- 
bered words and their sounds and significations almost isntinclively; 


buthelived upon reminiscences : he never had an original thought. 
I understood from one of his learned colleagues, (a Roman 
Prelate,) that it was the same with his theology ; there was no 
acnteness in his divinity, although he knew well St. Thomas and 
other scholastics. 

As to Biblical Criticism, he had no idea of it .His knowledge of 
Greek criticism too was very shallow. 

In short, his linguistic talent was that of seizing sounds and 
accents, and the whole (so to say) idiom of a language, and repro- 
ducing them by a wonderful, but equally special, memory. 

I do not think he had ever his equal in this respect. 

But the cultivation of this power had absorbed all the rest. 

Let it, however, never be forgotten that he was, according to all 
I have heard from him, a charitable, kind Christian, devout but 
not intolerant, and that his habitual meekness was not a cloak, 
but a real Christian habit and virtue. Honour be to his memory." 

There is a part of this criticism which is unquestion- 
ably just : but there are also several of the views 
from which I am bound to dissent most strongly, and 
to which I shall have occasion to revert hereafter. 
Meanwhile, that the Cardinal paid more attention to 
these inquiries than Mr. Kip and M. Bunsen suppose, 
will appear from the testimony of the Abbe Gaume, 
author of the interesting work, '"'' Les Trois Rome.'''' 

"I had often met the illustrious philologer," says M. Gaume, 
" at the Propaganda, where he used to come to spend the afternoon. 
Kind, afl'able, modest, he mixed with the students, and spoke by 
turns Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, Chinese, and twenty other lan- 
guages, with a facility almost prodigious When I entered, I 
found himstudyingBas-Breton.and Thaveno doubt that in a short 
time he will be able to exhibit it to the inhabitants of Vannes 
themselves. His eminence assured me of two points. The first 
is the fundamental unity of all languages. This unity is ob- 
servable especially in the parts of speech, which are the same or 
nearly so in all languages. The second is the trinity of dialects 


in tlie primitive language ; — a trinity corres))onding with (he 
three races of mankind. The Cardinal has satisfied hinself that 
there are but three races sprung from one common stock, as there 
are but three languages or principal dialects of one ])rimilive lan- 
^'uage; — the Japhetic language and race; the Semitic language 
and race ; and the Chamitic language and race Thus the unity 
of the human kind and the trinity of races, which are established 
by all the monuments of history, are found also to be supported 
by the authority of the most extraordinary philologer that has 
even been known. 

The Cardinal's testimony is the more in portaiil inasmuch 
as his linguistic acquirements are not confined to a superficial 
knowledge. Of the many languages which he possesses, there is 
not one in which he is not familiar with the every day words, com- 
mon sayings, adages, and all that difficult nomenclature which 
constitutes the popular part of a language. One da^- he asked one 
of our friends to what province of France he belonged. ' To Bur- 
gundy ;' replied my friend. 'Oh!' said Mezzofanli, 'you 
have two Burguiidian dialects ; which of them do 30U speak ?' ' I 
know,' replied our friend, ' the patois of Lower Burgundy.' 
Whereupon the Cardinal began to talk to him in Lower Bur- 
gundian, with a fluency which the vine-dressers of Nauies or 
Beaime might envy."* 

This curious familiarity with provincial patois^ 
described by the Abbe Gaume, extended to the other 
provincial dialects of France. M. Manavit found 
him not only acquainted with the Tolosan dialect, 
but even not unread in its local literature. His 
library contains books in the dialects of Lorraine, 
Bearne, Tranche Comte, and Dauphine. I have 
already mentioned his speaking Provencal with 
Madame de Chaussegros ; and Dr. Grant, bishop of 
South w ark, told me that he was able, solely by the 

* Gaume, Les Trois Rome, II. 413-4. 


accent of the Abbe Carbry, to determine the precise 
place of bis nativity, Montauban. 

Another hmguage regarding which, although it has 
more than once been alluded to, few testimonies have 
as yet been brought forward, is Spanish. I shall 
content myself, nevertheless, with the evidence of a 
single Spaniard, which, brief as it is, leaves nothing 
to be desired. " I can assert of his Eminence," 
writes Father Diego Burrueco, a Trinitarian of 
Zamora, who knew the Cardinal during many of 
these years, " that he spoke our Spanish like a native 
of Castile. He could converse in the Andalusian 
dialect with Andalusians ; he was able, also, to dis- 
tinguish the Catalonian dialect from that of Valencia, 
and both from that of the Island of Majorca."* We 
have already seen that, at a very early period of his 
life, he studied the Mexican, Peruvian, and other 
languages of Spanish America. That [he spoke both 
Mexican and Peruvian after he came to Rome, Car- 
dinal Wiseman has no doubt. He is also stated to 
have learned something of the languages of Ocean ica 
from Bishop Pompalier, of New Zealand. I may add 
here, though I have failed in finding native wit- 
nesses, that it is the universal belief in Rome that he 
spoke well both ancient and modern Chaldee, and 
ancient Coptic, as also the modern dialect of Egypt. 
He had the repute also of being thoroughly familiar 
with both branches of the Illyrian family — the Sla- 
vonic and the Romanic. To the testimonies alread}-^ 
borne to his skill in Armenian and Turkish, I must 
add that of the Mecbitarist, Father Raphael Trenz, 
Superior of the Armenian College in Paris, who 

* Letter of November 9, 1835. 


knew him in 1846. "Having conversed with his 
Eminence," writes this father, *"in ancient and in mo- 
dern Armenian, and also in Turkish, I am able to attest 
that he spoke and pronounced them all with the 
purity and propriety of a native of these countries." 

Perhaps also, although we have had many notices 
of his skill in Russian and Polish from a very early 
period, it may be satisfactory to subjoin the reports 
of one or two travellers who conversed with him in 
these languages during his latter years. 

To begin with Russian. A traveller of that nation 
who twice visited him about this time, cited by Mr. 
Watts, describes him as " a phenomenon as yet un- 
paralleled in the literary world, and one that will 
scarce be repeated, unless the gift of tongues be given 
anew, as at the dawn of Christianity." 

"Cardinal Mezzofanti,'' he writes, "spoke eight languages 
fluently in my presence : he expressed himself in Russian very 
purely and correctly ; but, as he is more accustomed to the style 
of books than that of ordinary discourse, it is necessary to use 
the language of books in talking with him for the conversation to 
flow freely. His passion for acquiring languages is so great, 
that even now, in advanced age, he continues to study fresh dia- 
lects. He leanied Chinese not long ago ; and is constantly vi- 
siting the Propaganda for practice in conversation with its pupils 
of all sorts of races. I a^ked him to give me a list of all the lan- 
guages and dialects in which he was able to express himself, and 
he sent me the name of God written in his own hand, in fifty-six 
languages, of which thirty were European, not counting their sub- 
division of dialects, seventeen Asiatic, also without reckoning 
dialects, five African, and four American. In his person, the con- 
fusion that arose at the building of Babel is annihilated, and all 

* Letter of July 14, 1856. 


nations, according to the sublime expression of Scriptures, are 
again of one tongue. Will posterity ever see anything similar ? 
Mezzofanti is one of the most wonderful curiosities of Rome."* 

In the end of the year 1845, Nicholas, the late 
Emperor of Russia, (who of course is an authority 
also on the Polish language,) came to Rome, on his 
return from Naples, where he had been visiting his 
invalid Empress. The history of his interview with 
the Pope, Gregory XVI., and of the apostolic courage 
and candour with which, in two successive conferences, 
that great pontiff laid before him the cruelty, injustice, 
and impolicy of his treatment of the Catholic sub- 
jects of his empire, is too well known to need repe- 
tition here.f It was commonly said at the time, 
and has been repeated in more than one publication, 
that the Pope*s interpreter in this memorable con- 
ference was Cardinal Mezzofanti. This is a mistake. 
The only Cardinal present at the interview was the 
mild and retiring, but truly noble-minded and apos- 
tolic, Cardinal Acton. 

A few days, however, after this interview, M. 
Boutanieff, the Russian minister at Rome, wrote to 
request that Cardinal Mezzofanti would wait upon 
the Emperor ; and a still more direct invitation was 
conveyed to him, in the name of the Emperor him- 
self, by his first aide-de-camp. The Cardinal of 
course could not hesitate to comply. Their conversa- 
tion was held both in Russian and in Polish. The 

* Remskiya Pisma — (by M. Mouravieff.) vol. I., p. 144. 

t See the Allgemeine Zeituug, for 1846. No. 4, p. 27. See also 
the Kirchen-Lexieon. B, IV., p. 729. This interview forms the 
subject of one of the most brilliant sketches in Cardinal Wiseman's 
"Recollections of the Last Four Popes," pp. 409, and foil. 



Emperor was filled with wonder,,and confessed that, in 
either of these languages it would be difficidt to 
discover any trace of foreign peculiarity in the Car- 
dinal's accent or manner.* It is somewhat auiusing 
to add, that the Cardinal is said to have taken some 
exceptions to the purity, or at least the elegance, of 
the Emperor's Polish conversational style. 

As regards the Polish language, however, the year 
1845 supplies other and more direct testimonies than 
that of the Emperor Nicholas. 

In an extract cited by Mr. Watts from the Posthu- 
mous Works of the eminent Polish authoress, Kle- 
mentyna z Tanskich Hoffmanowa, who visited Rome 
in the March of that year, it is stated that " the 
cardinal spoke Polish well, though with somewhat 
strained and far-fetched expressions f and that he 
was master of the great difficulty of Polish pronunci- 
ation — that of the marked I — " although he often 
forgot it." This lady has preserved in her Diary a 
Polish couplet, written for her by the Cardinal with 
his own hand, under a little picture of the Madonna. 

Ten ogien ktorv zyia w sercu twoiem 
O Matko Boza ! zapal w sercu inoiem.f 

Another, and to the Cardinal far more interesting, 
representative of the Polish language appeared in 
Rome during the same year. Mezzofanti had long 
felt deeply the wrongs of his oppressed fellow-Catholics 

* Manavit, p. 113. 
t Translated by Mr. Watts. 

" The fire that burns within that breast of thine, 
Mother of God ! O kindle it in mine." 

Trans, of Philological Sucicty, 1854, jp. 148. 


in Poland and Lithuania. A few months before the 
Emperor's arrival in Rome, they had been brought 
most painfully under his eyes by the visit of a refugee 
of that vast empire, and a victim of the atrocious 
policy which had become its ruling spirit — the heroic 
Makrena Mirazylawski, abbess of the Basilian convent 
of Minsk, the capital of the province of that name. 
The organized measures of coercion by which the 
Emperor endeavoured to compel the Catholic popu- 
lation of Lithuania and Poland, and the other Catholic 
subjects of the empire, into renunciation of their 
allegiance to the Holy See, and conformity with the 
doctrine and discipline of the Russian church, com- 
prised all the members of the Catholic church in 
Russia without exception, even the nuns of the various 
communities throughout their provinces. Among 
these was a sisterhood of the Basilian order in the 
city of Minsk, thirty-five in number. The bishop of 
the diocese and the chaplain of the convent, having 
themselves conformed to the imperial will, first endea- 
voured to bend the resolution of these sisters by bland- 
ishraent, but in the end sought by open violence to 
cornpel them into submission. But the nobleminded 
sisters, with their abbess at their head, firmly refused 
to yield ; and, in the year 1839, the entire community 
(with the exception of one who died from grief and 
terror) were driven from their convent, and marched 
in chains to Witepsk, and afterwards to Polosk, where, 
with two other communities equally firm in their 
attachment to their creed, they were subjected, for 
nearly six years, to a series of cruelties and indignities 


of which it is difficult to think without horror, and 
which would revolt all credibility, were they not 
attested by authorities far from partial to the mon- 
astic institute.* Chained hand and foot ; flogged ; 
beaten with the fist and with clubs ; thrown to the 
earth and trampled under foot ; compelled to break 
stones and to labour at quarries and earthworks ; 
dragged in sacks after a boat through a lake in the 
depth of winter ; supplied only wdth the most loath- 
some food and in most insufficient quantity ; lodged 
in cells creeping with maggots and with vermin ; fed 
for a time exclusively on salt herrings, without a 
drop of water ; tried, in a word, by every conceivable 
device of cruelty ; — the perseverance of these heroic 
women is a living miracle of martyr-like fidelity. 
Nine of the number died from the effects of the 
excessive and repeated floggings to which, week after 
week, they were subjected, three fell dead in the 
course of their cruel tasks ; two were trampled to 
death by their drunken guards ; three were drowned 
in these brutal noyades ; nine were killed by the 
falling of a wall, and five were crushed in an exca- 
vation, while engaged in the works already referred 
to ; eight became blind ; two lost their reason ; 
several others were maimed and crippled in various 
ways ; so that, in the year 1845, out of the three 
united communities (which at the first had numbered 
fifty-eight) only four, of whom Makrena was the chief, 

* See an article in " Household Words," May 13, 1854 (No. 21G). 
Sec also Rohrbacher's Ilistoire de TEglisc, T. XXVIII. pp. 431-42. 


retained the use of their limbs ! These hero- 
ines of faith and endurance contrived at last to 
effect their escape from Polosk, from which place it 
had been resolved to transport them to Siberia ; and, 
through a thousand difficulties and dangers, Makrena 
Mirazylawski made her adventurous way to Rome. 

The sufferings and the wrongs of this interesting 
stranger found a ready sympathy in Cardinal Mezzo- 
fanti's generous heart. He listened to her narrative 
with deep indignation, and took the liveliest interest 
in all the arrangements for her safe and fitting recep- 
tion and that of her companions. 

I was naturally anxious to hear what, on the other 
hand, were the abbess's impressions of the cardinal. 
In reply to the inquiries of my friend, Rev. Dr. 
Morris, she " spoke of him in the very highest terms." 
" He was," she said, " a living saint," and she described 
both his charity and his spirituality as very remark- 
able. When Father Ryllo (the Jesuit Rector of the 
Propaganda before F. Bresciani) left Rome for the 
African Mission, Cardinal Mezzofanti became Mother 
Makrena's director, and continued to be so for two 
years. " He spoke Polish," she declares, " like a 
native of Poland, and wrote it with great correctness." 
Having ascertained that the abbess had had a con- 
siderable packet of papers written by him in Polish, 
generally on those occasions when he could not come 
to her as usual, on various spiritual subjects, I was 
most anxious to obtain copies of them ; but I was 
deeply mortified to learn that they were all unfor- 


tunatelj lost in the Revolution, when she was driven 
out of her little convent near Santa Maria Maggiore. 
This bumble community was afterwards increased by 
the arrival of other fugitives from different parts of 
the Russian Empire ; nor did the cardinal cease till 
the very last days of his life his anxious care, of all 
their spiritual and temporal interests. 

Another religious institution to which be devoted 
a good deal of his time was the House of Catechumens, 
of which, as has already been stated, he was Cardinal 
Protector. When M. Manavit was in Rome the 
inmates of this establishment, then in preparation for 
baptism, were between thirty and forty, several of 
whom were Moors or natives of Algeria ; and there 
are few who will not cordially agree with him* in 
looking upon "the modest Cardinal, catechism in hand, 
in the midst of this humble flock, as a nobler picture, 
more truly worthy of admiration, than delivering his 
most learned dissertation on the Vedas to the most 
brilliant company that ever assembled in the halls of 
the Propaganda." 

In this, and in more than one other charitable institu- 
tion of Ronie,theCardinal took especial delight in assist- 
ing at the First Communion of the young inmates ; 
and, from thesimple fervour of his manner and the gen- 
uine truthfulness of his piety, he was most happy and 
effective in the little half hortatory, half ejaculatory 
discourses, ciiWad Fervormi,\v\nch. in Rome ordinarily, 
on occasions of a First Communion, precede the actual 
administration of the sacrament. 

* Manavit, p. 95. 


M. Manavit adds that, even after AJJezzofanti became 
cardinal, Ms old character of Confessario del Forestieri 
(" Foreigners' Confessor") was by no means a sinecure. 
To many of the Polish exiles, clergy and laity, who 
visited or settled in Rome, he acted as director, 
especially after Father Kyllo's departure to Africa. 
He was equally accessible to low and high degree. 
M. Mouravieff* (the Russian traveller already cited) 
mentions an instance in which, having heard of a 
poor servant maid, a young Russian girl, who desired 
to be received into the Church, he paid her repeated 
visits, instructed her in the catechism, and himself 
completed in person every part of her preparation 
for the sacraments. 

The death of Pope Gregory XVI., (June 1st, 1846) 
which, although in a ripe old age, was at the time 
entirely unexpected, was a great affliction to Mezzo- 
fanti, whose aflfectionate relations with him were main- 
tained to the very last. The Cardinal was, of course, a 
member of the conclave in which (June 16th) 
Pius IX. was elected. The speedy and unanimous 
agreement of the Cardinals in this election — one of 
the few which seemed to convert the traditional form 
of " election by inspiration," into a reality — was com- 
memorated impromptu by him in the following 
graceful epigram : — 

Gregoiius coelo iuvectiis sic protinus orat : 
" Hen cito Pastorem da, bone Christe, gvegi ! " 
Audit; et immissus pervadit pectora Patruin, 
Sj)iritiis : et Nonas prodit ecce Pius ! f 
• Quoted by Manavit, p. 98. 
f Another impromptu epigram composed by the Cardinal, while 


During the pontificate of Gregory XVI., Cardinal 
Mezzofanti never held any office of state ; nor did 
the change of sovereign make any change in his 
rank or his occupations. He was, of course, continued 
by the new government in all his appointments ; and 
the new Pope, Pius IX., regarded him with the same 
friendship and favour which he had enjoyed at the 
hands of his predecessor. In the social and political 
changes which ensued, Mezzofanti, from his non-politi- 
cal character, had no part. No one sympathized more 
cordially with the beneficent intentions of his Sover- 
eign ; but, completely shut out as he was by his posi- 
tion from political affairs, he pursued his quiet 
career, with all its wonted regularity, through the very 
hottest excitement of the eventful years of 1847 and 

Many visitors who conversed with him in these, 
the last years of his life, have repeated to me the 
accounts which have already become familiar from the 
reports of those who knew him in earlier years. The 
fulfilment of his public duties as Cardinal; — the care of 
the institutions over which an especial charge had 
been assigned him ; — the confessional, whenever his 
services were sought by a foreigner ; — above all, his 
beloved pupils in the Propaganda — these formed for 
him the business of life. 

the memorable procession of the 8th of September following, was 
returning from the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, amid the 
universal jubilation of Rome, and of representatives of all the Papal 
provinces, has been communicated to me. 

Te Patre, Teque Pio, junguntur Principe corda: — 
Ecce Tibi unum cor, Felsina, Roma, sumus ! 


"Almost every evening, when I was in the College of the Propaganda 
saysF.Bresciani, " he would come to exercise himself with these 
dear pupils, who are collected there from all nations of the world, 
to be educated in sacred and profane literature and in the apos- 
tolic spirit. Then, as he conversed with me in the halls of the Pro- 
paganda when the pupils were returning from theireveuing walks, 
he would go to meet them as he saw them coming up the steps, 
and, as they passed him, would say something to them in their 
own languages ; speaking to one, Chinese ; to another, Armenian ; 
to a third, Greek ; to a fourth, Bulgarian. This one he would 
accost in Arabic, that, in Ethiopic, Geez, or Abyssinian; now he 
would speak in Russian, then in Albanian, in Persian, in Peguan, 
in Coptic, in English, in Lithuanian, in German, in Danish, in 
Georgian, in Kurdish, in Norwegian, in Swedish. Nor was there 
ever any risk that he should get entangled, or that a word of 
another language or a wrong pronunciation should escape him.''* 
* ^ * * * * * 

"Every year, from ihe time of his coming to Rome, even after 
he had been made Cardinal, he used to assist the students in 
composing their several national odes for the Polyglot Academy 
of the Propaganda, which is held during the octave of the Epi- 
phany, and in which the astonished foreigners who witness it be- 
hold a living emblem of the unity of the Catholic Church, which 
- alone is able, through the Holy Spirit that vivifieth her, to show 
forth in one fraternity the union of all tongues, in praising and 
blessing the Lord who created us and redeemed us by the blood 
of Jesus Christ. Now the Cardinal, in these fifty tongues and 
upwards, in which the pupils composed, would make all the ne- 
cessary corrections whether of thought, metre, or phrase, with all, 
and perhaps more than all, the facility and exactness of others in 
writing poetry in their native tongue. After he had conected the 
compositions, he would take his beloved pupils, one by one, and 
instruct them in the proper mode of reciting and pronouncing 
each, And, as some of them occasionally had entered college 
• Civilta Cattolica VII, p. 877. This brilliant account of the 
Cardinal is given in the "Appendix" of Father Bresciani's Ebreu di 
Verona, and is full of most curious and interesting details. 


when vcrv Utile boys, and had foigoUou «ome of ilie tones or ca- 
dence of their native languages, he would come to their aid by 
sugs;estiug these, testing and correcting iheni with the utmost 
gentleness and patience. "* 

It would be out of place here to enter into any 
detail of the startling and violent changes by which 
these tranquil occupations were rudely interrupted. 
The Cardinal had watched with deep anxiety the 
gradually increasing demands with which each suc- 
cessive generous and confiding measure of the ad- 
ministration of Pius IX. had been met ; but even his 
sagacious mind, schooled as it had already been in the 
vicissitudes of former revolutions, was not prepared 
for the succession of terrible events which crowded 
themselves into the last few weeks of the " year of re- 
volution" — the furious demands of the clubs — the ex- 
pulsion of the Jesuits — the assassination of De Rossi — 
the obtrusion of a republican ministry — the flight of 
the Pope — the proclamation of the Republic. Amid all 
the terrors of the time, he had but one thought — grati- 
tude for the safety of the Pope. He was urged by his 
friends to imitate the example of the main body of the 
Cardinals, and to follow his Sovereign to Gaeta or 
Naples ; but he refused to leave Rome, and continued 
through all the scenes of violence which followed the 
flight of Pius IX., to live, without any attempt at conceal- 
ment, at his old quarters in the Palazzo Yalentiniani. 

Nevertheless, although, personally, Cardinal Mezzo- 
fanti suffered no molestation, the alarm and anxiety 
inseparable from such a time, could not fail to tell upon 
a constitution, at no time robust, and of late years 

• Civilta Cattolica, VII. p. 577. 


much enfeebled. From the beginning of the year 
1849, his strength began sensibly to diminish. It 
was characteristic of the man that even all the terrors 
of the period could not make him forget his favourite 
festival of the Epiphany; and that, among the number- 
less more deplorable changes which surrounded him, 
he still had a regret for the absence of the accustomed 
Polyglot Academy of the Propaganda. Before the 
middle of January he became so weak, that it was 
with the utmost difficulty he was able to say mass 
in his private chapel. While he was in this state 
of extreme debility, he was seized with an alarming 
attack of pleurisy; and although the acute symptoms 
were so far relieved at the end of January, that his 
family entertained sanguine hopes of his recovery, 
this illness was followed, in the early part of Febru- 
ary, by an attack of gastric fever, by which the slen- 
der remains of his strength were speedily exhausted. 
The venerable sufferer at once became sensible of 
his condition. From the very first intimation of his 
danger, he had commenced his preparation for death, 
with all the calm and simple piety which had charac- 
terised his life. In accordance with one of our 
beautiful Catholic customs — at once most holy in 
themselves, and an admirable help even to the sub- 
limest piety — he at once entered upon a N'ovena, or 
nine days* devotion, to St. Joseph ; who, as, according 
to an old tradition, his own eyes were closed in death 
by the blessed hands of his divine Saviour, has been 
adopted by Catholic usage as the Patron of the Dying, 
and who was besides the name-saint and especial 


Patron of the Cardinal himself. In these pious ex- 
ercises he was accompanied by his chaplain, by 
his nephews, Gaetano and Pietro, and above all, by 
his niece, Anna, who was most tenderly attached to 
him, and was inconsolable at the prospect of his death. 
He himself fixed the time for receiving the Holy 
Viaticum and the Extreme Unction. They were ad- 
ministered by Padre Ligi, parish priest of the Church 
of SS. Apostoli, assisted by the Cardinal's chaplain, 
and by his confessor, Padre Proja, now Sacristan of 
St. Peter's. The chaplain and the members of his 
family frequently assembled at his bed-side, to accom- 
pany and assist him in his dying devotions ; and the 
intervals between these common prayers, in which all 
alike took part, were filled up with pious readings 
by Anna Minarelli, and with short prayers of the 
holy Cardinal himself. " Dio mio ! abbiate pieta di 
me !" " My God, have mercy on me !" — was his 
ever recurring ejaculation, mingled occasionally 
with prayers for the exiled Pontiff, for the welfare 
of his widowed Church, and for the peace of his 
distracted country. " Abbiate pietd della Chiesaf 
Preghiamo per lei /" 

By degrees he became too feeble to maintain his 
attention through a long prayer ; but even still, with 
that deeply reverent spirit which had always dis- 
tinguished him, he would not suffer the prayer to be 
abruptly terminated. " Terminiamo con un Gloria 
Patri" "Let us finish with a Gloria Patri :" — he would 
say, when he found himself unable longer to attend to 
the Litany of the Dying, or the Rosary of the Blessed 


Virgin. But in a short time he Avould again summon 
them to resume their devotion. 

Early in March it became evident that his end was 
fast approaching. He still retained strength by- 
energy enough to commence a second Novena to his 
holy Patron St. Joseph — a pious exercise, which, in 
the simple words of his biographer, " he was destined 
to bring to an end in heaven." During the last three 
days of life, his articulation, at times, was barely 
distinguishable ; but even when his words were in- 
audible, his attendants could not mistake the unvary- 
ing fervour of his look, and the reverent movements 
of the lips and eyes, which betokened his unceasing 
prayer. From the morning of the 15th of March, 
the decline of strength became visibly more rapid ; 
and, on the night of that day, he calmly expired.* His 
last distinguishable words, a happy augury of his bles- 
sed end — were : ^^Andiamo, andlamo, presto in Para- 
diso.''^ "i am going — lam going — soon to Paradise!'''' 

The absence of the Roman Court, as well as the 
other unhappy circumstances of the times, precluded 
the possibility of performing his obsequies with the 
accustomed ceremonial. An offer of the honours of 
a public funeral, with deputations from the univer- 
sity, and an escort of the National Guard, was made 
by M. Gherardi, the Minister of Public Instruction 
in the new-born Republic. But these, and all other 
honours of the anti-Papal Republic, were declined by 
his family ; — not only from the unseemliness of such 

* His zucchetto, the red skull-cap worn by Cardinals, is pre- 
served in the collection at Abbotsford. 


a ceremonial at such a time, but still more as in- 
consistent with the loyalty, and the personal feelings, 
principles, and character, of the illustrious deceased. 

Without a trace, therefore, of the wonted solemni- 
ties of a cardinalitial funeral — the cappella ardente ; 
the lofty catafalque ; the solemn lying in state ; 
the grand ili ma de Requiem; — the remains of the great 
linguist were, on the evening of the 17th of March, 
conducted unostentatiously, with no escort but that 
of his own family and of the members of his modest 
household, bearing torches in their hands, to their 
last resting-place in Sant' Onofrio, on the Janicu- 
lum — the church of his Cardinalitial title. 

There, within the same walls which, as we saw, en- 
close the ashes of Torquato Tasso, the tomb of Cardinal 
Mezzofanti may be recognised by the following un- 
pretending inscription, from the pen of his friend Mgr. 
Laureani : — 














We have now before us, in the narrative of Cardinal 
Mczzofanti's life, such materials for an estimate of 
his attainments as a linguist and a scholar, as a most 
diligent and impartial inquiry has enabled me to 
bring together. I can truly say that in no single in- 
stance have I suffered my own personal admiration 
of his extraordinary gifts to shape or to influence that 
inquiry. I have not looked to secure a verdict by 
culling the evidence. A great name is but tarnished 
by unmerited praise — non eget mendacio nostro. I 
have felt that I should consult best for the fame of 
Mezzofanti, by exhibiting it in its simple truth ; and 
I have sought information regarding him, fearlessly 
and honestly, in every field in which I saw a pros- 
pect of obtaining it, — from persons of every class, 
country, and creed — from friendly, from indifferent, 
and even from hostile quarters ; — from all, in a word, 
without exception, whom I knew or thought likely to 
possess the means of contributing to the solution of 
the interesting problem in the annals of the human 
mind, which is involved in his history. 


It only remains to sum up the results. Nor is it easy 
to approach this duty with a perfectly unbiassed mind. 
If, on the one hand, there is a temptation to heighten 
the marvels of the history, viewed through what Car- 
lyle calls "the magnifying camera oscura of tradition," 
on the other, there is the opposite danger of unduly 
yielding to incredulity, and discarding its genuine facts 
on the sole ground of their marvellousness. I shall en- 
deavour to hold a middle course. I shall not accept 
any of the wonders related of Mezzofanti, unless 
they seem attested by undisputable authority : but 
neither shall I, in a case so clearly abnormal as his, 
and one in which all ordinary laws are so completely 
at fault, reject well-attested facts, because they may 
seem irreconcilable with every-day experience. Our 
judgments of unwonted mental phenomena can hardly 
be too diffident, or too circumspect. The marvels of 
the faculty of memory which we all have read of; 
the prodigies of analysis which many of us have 
witnessed in the mental arithmeticians who occasion^ 
ally present themselves for exhibition ; the very va-, 
garies of the senses themselves, which occasionally fol-s 
low certain abnormal conditions of the organs — are 
almost as wide a departure from what we are accus^ 
tomedto in these departments, as is the greatest marvel 
related of Mezzofanti in the faculty of language. Per- 
haps there could not be a more significant rebuke of this 
universal scepticism, than the fact that the very event 
which Juvenal, in his celebrated sneer at the tale of 

Velificatus Athos, et quidquid Gijecia mendax 

A\idet in historia — 


has selected as the type of self-convicted mendacity — 
the passage of Xerxes's fleet through Mount Athos — 
now proves to be not only possible, but absolutely 
true ; and it is wisely observed by Mr. Grote, that, 
while no amount of mere intrinsic probability is 
sufficient to establish the truth of an unattested state- 
ment, on the other hand, " statements in themselves 
highly improbable may well deserve belief, provided 
they be supported by sufficient positive evidence." 
{Hist, of Greece^ I. 571.) 

There are two heads of inquiry which appear to 
me specially deserving of attention. 

First, the number of languages with which Car- 
dinal Mezzofanti was acquainted, and the degree of 
his proficiency in each. 

Secondly, his method of studying languages, and 
the peculiar mental development to which his ex- 
traordinary success as a linguist is attributable. 

I. — I wish I could begin, in accordance with a 
suggestion of my friend M. d'Abbadie, by defining 
exactly what is meant by knowledge of a language. 
But unfortunately, the shades of such knowledge are 
almost infinite. The vocabularies of our modern 
languages contain as many as forty or fifty thousand 
words i and Claude Chappe, the inventor of the tele- 
graph, calculates, that for the complete expression 
of human thought and sentiment in all its forms, 
at least ten thousand words are necessary. On 
the other hand, M. d*Abbadie, in his explorations 
in Abyssinia, was able to make his way without an 


interpreter, though his vocabulary did not comprise 
quite six hundred words ; and M. Julien, in his 
controversy with Pauthier, asserts that about four 
thousand words will amply suffice even for the study of 
the great classics of a language, as Homer, Byron, 
or Racine. 

Which of these standards are we to adopt ? 

And even if we fix upon any one of them, 
how shall we apply it to the Cardinal, whereas we 
can only judge of him by the reports of his visitors, 
who applied to him, each a standard of his own ? 

It is plain that any such strict philosophical no- 
tion, however desirable, would be inapplicable in 
practice. It appears to me, however, that the ob- 
jects of this inquiry will be sufficiently attained by 
adopting a popular notion, founded upon the com- 
mon estimation of mankind. 1 think a man may 
be truly said to know a language thoroughly, if he 
can read it fluently and with ease ; if he can write 
it correctly in prose, or still more, in verse ; and 
above all, if he be admitted by intelligent and edu- 
cated natives to speak it correctly and idiomatically. 

I shall be content to apply this standard to Car- 
dinal Mezzofanti. 

Looking back over the narrative of Cardinal Mezzo- 
fanti's life, we can trace a tolerably regular progress 
in the number of languages ascribed to him through its 
several stages. In 1805, according to Father Caronni, 
" he was commonly reported to be master of more 
than twenty-four languages." Giordani*s account of 
him in 1812, seems, although it does not specify any 


number, to indicate ca greater total than this. 
Stewart Rose, in 1817, speaks of him as "reading 
twenty languages, and conversingin eighteen." Barou 
von Zach, in 1820, brings the number of the lan- 
guages spoken by him up to thirty-two. Lady Morgan 
states, that by the public report of Bologna he was 
reputed to be master of forty. He himself, in 1836, 
stated to M. Mazzinghi that he knew forty -five ; and 
before 1839, he used to say that he knew " fifty, and 
Bolognese.*' In reply to the request of M. Moura- 
viefi", a little later, that he would give him a list of 
the languages that he knew, he sent him a sheet 
containing the name of God in fifty-six languages. 
In the year 1846 he told Father Bresciani that he 
knew seventy-eight languages and dialects ;* and a 
list communicated to me by his nephew, Dr. Gaetano 
Minarelli, by whom it has been compiled after a dili- 
gent examination of his deceased uncle's books and 
papers, reaches the astounding total of one hundred 
and fourteen ! 

It is clear, however.'that these, and the similar state- 
ments which have been current, require considerable 
examination and explanation. It is much to be regret- 
ted that the Cardinal did not, with his own hand, draw 
up, as he had often been requested, and as he certain- 
ly intended, a complete catalogue of the languages 
known by him, distinguishing, as in the similar 
statement left by Sir William Jones, the degrees of 
his knowledge of the several languages which it com- 
prised. In none of the statements on the subject 
• Civilta CattoHca, VII. 596. 


which are in existence, is any attempt made to dis- 
criminate thehmgiiages with which he was familiar from 
those imperfectly known by him. On the contrary, from 
the tone of some of his panegyrists, it would seem that 
they wish to represent him as equally at home in all ; — 
a notion which he himself, in his conversations with 
Lady Morgan, with Dr. Tholuck, with M. Mazzinghi, 
and on many subsequent occasions, distinctly repu- 
diated and ridiculed. In his statement to Father 
Bresciani, in 1846, the Cardinal did not enumerate 
the seventy-eight languages and dialects which he 
knew or had studied ; but in the year before his 
death, 1848, he told Father Bresciani that he was 
then engaged in drawing up a comparative scheme 
of languages, their common descent, their affinities, 
and their ramifications ; together with a simple and 
easy plan for acquiring a number of languages, 
however dissimilar.* At my request, Father 
Bresciani kindly applied to Dr. Minarelli, the nephew 
and representative of the deceased, for a copy of this 
interesting paper ; but unfortunately no trace of it 
is now discoverable, and Dr. Minarelli supposes that, 
as was usual with him when dissatisfied with any of 
his compositions, the Cardinal burnt it before his 

During the course of this search, however. Dr. 
Minarelli himself was led to draw up, partly from his 
own knowledge of his uncle's attainments, partly 
from the inspection of his books and papers, a de- 
tailed list of the languages with which he believes 

* Civilta Cattolica, VII., p. 578. 



tlie Cardinal to have been acquainted. This list he 
has kindly communicated to me- From its very 
nature, of course, it is to a great extent conjectural ; 
it makes no pretension to a scientific classification of 
the languages ; and it contains several evident over- 
sights and errors; but as the writer, in addition to his 
long personal intercourse with his uncle, enjoyed the 
opportunity of access to his papers and memoranda, 
and above all to his books in various languages, his 
grammars, dictionaries, and vocabularies, and the mar- 
ginal notes and observations — the schemes, paradigms, 
critical analyses, and other evidences of knowledge, or 
at least of study — which they contain; and as he has 
been mainly guided by these in the compilation of his 
list of languages, I shall translate the paper in its in- 
tegrity, merely correcting certain obvious errors, and 
striking out a few of the items in the enumeration, in 
which, clearly by mistake, the same language is 
twice repeated. The order of languages is in part 

1. Albanese oi* 


2. Arabic. 

3. Armenian. 

4. Angolese. 

5. Aymara. 

6. Algonquin. 

7. Brazilian. 

8. Mexican. 

9. Paraguay. 

* I do not know what language is here meant. Perhaps it is a 
mistake for Bavara — the Bavarian dialect of German : or possibly it 
may mean the Dutch of the Boors at the Cape of Good Hope. 

t Possibly Berberica — the Barbary dialect of Arabic. 

% This is probably meant for Concunico — an Indian language which 
often appeared in the programme of the Propaganda Academy, while 














Bunda, (in An- 











Baure," (?) 




Braubica,f (?) 










Conserica,^ (?) 



29 Cahnapana* (?) 

30 Canisiana. 

31 Cayubaba. 

32 Cochimi. 

33 Danish. 

34 Swedish. 

35 Norwegian . 

36 Icelandic. 

37 Lappish. 

38 Tamul. 

39 Hebrew. 

40 Rabbinical He- 


41 Samaritan. 

42 Coptic Egyptian. 

43 Coptic Arabic. t 

44 Etruscan J (so 

far as known to 
the learned.) 

45 Ethiopic. 

46 Emnbellada.% (') 

47 Phenician,(sofar 

as it is known.) 

48 Flemish. 

49 French. 

50 Breton French. 

51 LorraineDialect. 

52 Proven9al. 

53 Gothic and Visi 


54 Ancient Greek. 

55 Romaic. 

56 Georgian or Ib- 


57 Grisons,or Rhe- 


58 Guarany. 

59 Guai'iza. 

60 Illyrian. 

61 Iberian. II 

62 Idioma Mistical 

63 Itomani. 

64 Cingalese. 

65 Hindostani. 

66 Malabar. 

67 Malay. 

68 Sanscrit. 

69 Sanscrit Dialect 

of Eastern Per- 

70 English. 

71 AncientBreton** 

72 ScottishCeltic.ft 

73 Scotch 

74 Irish. 

75 Welsh. 

76 Italian. 

77 Friulese. 

78 Maltese. 

79 Sardinian. 

80 Lombard, Ligu- 

rian, Piedmon- 
tese, Sicilian & 
Tuscan dialect 
of Italian. 

81 Latin. 

82 Maronite and 
Syro-Maronite. (?) 

83 Madagascar. 

84 Mobima. 

85 Moorish. 

86 Maya. 

87 Dutch. 

88 Othomi. 

89 Omagua. ' 

90 Australian. Jf 

91 Persian. 

92 Polish. 

93 Portuguese. 

94 Peguan. 

Mezzofanti was in Rome. It is the dialect of Kunka, in the pro- 
vince of Orissa. 

* This is certainly meant for Tepehunna, one of the Central Ameri^ 
can point of languages. 

t Probably by these names are meant the two spo^ew dialects of the 
orthodox christians of modern Egypt. The Coptic (No. 23.) is the 
learned language of the Liturgy. 

X This item, as well as Nos. 47 and 53, may be ascribed to the 
writer's desire to swell the total of his uncle's languages — I need 
hardly say that they have no practical bearing on the question. 

§ I am unable to conjecture the meaning of this name. 

II This is either a repetition of No. 56., or it designates the whole 
class of languages called Iberian, and not an individual language. 

*|[ Perhaps Misteco — the Mistek; one of the Mexican group of lan- 
guages. Many interesting particulars regarding them will be found 
in Squier's Nicaragua. 

* * This probably means the old Celtic of Brittany. No. 50 is the 
modern patois of the province. 

t t If this be meant for Gaelic, as seems likely. No. 73 can only 
be the Lowland Scotch. 

$ I I need hardly observe on the vagueness of this name. Mezzo- 


95 Pimpanga. 

96 Quichua.f 

97 Russian. 

9S Rocorana(?)t 
99 Slavonic. 

100 Slavo-Carniolan. 

101 Slavo-Servian. 

102 Slavo-Ruthenian 

103 Siavo-Wallachian 

104 Syriac. 

105 Samogitian, or 


106 Spanish. 

107 Catalonian. 

108 Basque. 

109 Tanna.§ 

110 German. 

111 Tibetan. 

112 Turkish. 

113 Hungarian. 

114 Gipsy. 

Such is the Cavaliere Minarelli's report of the re- 
sult at which he has arrived, after an examination of 
the books and manuscripts of his illustrious uncle. In 
its form, I regret to say, it is far from satisfactory. 
It places on exactly the same level languages gener- 
ically distinct and mere provincial varieties of dialect. 
In one or two instances, also, (as Angolese and 
Bunda, Swedish and Norwegian,) the same language 
appears twice under dilOferent names. Above all, the 
compiler has not attempted to classify the languages 
acccording to the degree of the Cardinal's acquaint- 
ance icith each of them. ; nor has he entered into 
any explanation of the nature of the evidence 
of acquaintance with each of them which is supplied 
by the documents upon which he relies. || 

fanti learned from more than one missionary something of the lan- 
guages of Oceanica ; but how much I have no means of determining. 

" ForPampanga, one of the languages of the Philippine Islands — . 
an offshoot of the Malay family. 

t The old language of Peru. It is fast recovering the ground 
from which it had been driven by the Spanish. See Markham's 
•' Cuzco and Lima." 

X I cannot guess what is meant by this name. 

§ A language of the New Hebrides. See Adelung, I. p. 626 

II There can be no doubt that much light on this point may be 
derived from a thorough examination of these books and manuscripts ; 
and I trust that some of the Cardinal's friends at Rome, (where his 
library is now deposited, having been purchased for the Vatican,) will 
undertake the task. I have endeavoured in some degree to supply 
the want by a careful examination of the catalogue published in 
Rome in 1851, and often cited in this volume. But it is so full of 


As I cannot, consistently with the fundamental 
principle of this inquiry, accept such a statement, 
when unsupported by the testimony of native (or 
otherwise competent) witnesses for the several lan- 
guages, as conclusive evidence of the Cardinal's 
knowledge of the languages Avhich it ascribes to him, 
I shall merely offer this otherwise interesting paper 
at whatever may be considered its just value ; and I 
shall endeavour to decide the question upon grounds 
entirely independent of it, and drawn solely from the 
materials which I have already placed before the reader. 

It will, no doubt, have been observed that, so far as 
regards the reports of the travellers and others who 
conversed with the Cardinal, the degrees of his power 
of speaking the several languages have been very diffe- 
rently tested. In some languages he was, as it were, 
perpetually under trial : in others, very frequently, and 
in prolonged conversations ; in others, less frequently, 
but nevertheless searchingly enough ; in others, in 
fine, perhaps only to the extent of a few questions and 
answers. It is absolutely necessary, in forming any 
judgment, to attend carefully to this circumstance. 
I shall endeavour, therefore, to divide the languages 
ascribed to him into four different classes. 

First, languages certainly spoken by Cardinal 
Mezzofanti with a perfection rare in foreigners. 

Secondly, languages Avhich is he said to have spoken 
well, but as to which the evidence of sufficient trial is 
not so complete. 

the grossest and most ludicrous inaccuracies, so utterly unscientific, 
and so constantly confounds one language with another, that it can 
only be used with the utmost caution, and at best affords but little 
assistance for the purposes of the Memoir. 



Thirdly, languages which he spoke freely, but less 

Fourthly, languages in which he could merely 
express himself and initiate a conversation. I shall 
add : — 

Fifthly, certain other languages which he had 
studied from books, but does not appear to have 

And lastly, dialects of the principal languages. This 
order, of course, precludes all idea of a scientific 
classification* of the languages according to families. 

I-. — Languages frequently tested, and spoken with rareexcellence.\ 
1 Hebrew (Supra, p. 283, 341, 
345, 371.) 

2 RabbinicalHebrew(283,34I.) 

3 Arabic, (283,371,441.) 

4 Cbaiaee,(278, 384, 362, 451.) 

5 Coptic, (311,441,451.) 

6 Ancient Armenian,(352, 441.) 

7 ModernArmenian,(352,441.) 

8 Persian, (278,352, 394.) 

9 Turkish,(226, 31 1,393, 441.) 

10 Allmnese, (362,393,451.) 

1 1 Maltese, (336, 362.) 

12 Greek, (353.) 

13 Romaic, (353.) 

14 Latin, (201, 347.) 

15 Italian, (passim.) 

16 Spanish, (276, 312, 441.) 

17 Portuguese, (337, 367.) 
II, — Stated to have been spoken jiuently, hut hardiy sufficiently tested. 

18 French, (271, 276, 387.) 

19 German, (239, 250, 271, 277, 

281, 325, 345, 346, 393.) 

20 Swedish,(271,272, 350, 351.) 

21 Danish, (239, 281.) 

22 Dutch, (328,330, 332.) 

23 Flemish, (324, 328. ) 

24 English, (223, 226, 228, 348, 


25 Illyrian, (393, 441.) 

26 Russian, (244, 442, 443.) 

27 Polish, (328,444,447.) 

28 Czechish, or Bohemian, (246, 


29 Magyar, (242, 389, 391.) 

30 Chinese, (309, 310, 365, 368, 
369, 451. 

1 Svriac, (354, 364.) 

2 G'eez, (383, 385, 394.) 

3 Amarinna, (384, 385, 334.) 

4 Hindostani, (364, 366.) 

5 Guzarattee, 367. 

6 Basque, (393, 388.) 

7 Wallachian, (216, 244.) 

8 Calitornian, (355-7J 

9 Algonquin, (360-1.) 

* I should observe that I do not think it necessary to adopt the 
nomenclature of languages recently introduced. I will for the most 
part follow that of AJelung. 

f I shall refer for the several language, to the pages which contain 
the notices of the Cardinal's proficiency in each. There are two or 
three cases in which the proof may not appear quite decisive : but I 
have much understated, even in these, the common opinion of his 



III. Spoken rarely^ and less perfectly. 

1 Koordish, (394, 431.) 

2 Georgian, (231, 394.) 

3 Servian (the dialects of Bos- 

nia and of the Bannat,) 394. 

4 Bulgarian, (363, 393 441.) 
3 Gipsy language, ('244.) 

6 Peguan, (364,418,451.) 

7 Welsh, (320, 322,323.) 

8 Angolese, (370, 394,) 

9 Mexican. (441.) 

10 Chilian, (441.) 

11 Peruvian, (441.) 


Spoken imperfedJy ; — a few seMences and conversational forms. 

1 Cingalese, f363.) 

2 Birmese, (270, 463.*) 

3 Japanese, (463.) 

6 Chippewa Indian, (360.) 

7 Delaware, (360.) 

8 Some of the languages of Oce- 
anica, (441.) 

4 Irish, (442.) 

5 Gaelic, (424.) 

V. Studied from books, but not known to have been spoken. 

1 Sanscrit, (291, 394.) 

2 Malay, (464.) 

3 Tonquinese, (463.) 

4 Cochin-Chinese, (463.) 

5 Tibetan, (463.) 

6 Japanese, (463.) 

7 Icelandic, (464.) 

8 Lappish, (394.) 

9 Ruthenian, (311.) 

VI. — Dialects spoken, or their peculiarities understood. 

10 Frisian, (282.) 

1 1 Lettish, (394, 451.) 

12 Cornish, (old British of Corn- 
wall,) (280.J 

13 Quichua, (ancient Peruvian,) 

14 Bimbarra, (Central African,) 


Samaritan, (416.) 


Syrian dialect (fluently, 
Egyptian do., (311.) 
Moorish, (171.) 
Berber, (463.) 


Kiang-Si dialect, (416.) 
Hu-quam do., (416.) 


Sicilian, (324, 334.) 
Sardinian, (158-9.) 
Neapolitan, (^324. ) 
Bolognese, (247, 344.) 
Lombard, (464.) 
Friulese, (464.) 



Catalan, (441.) 
Valencian, (44 1 .) 
Majorican, (441.) 


Labourdain, (387-8.) 
Souletin, (387.) 
Guipuscoan, (388.) 


Debreczeny, (^391.) 
Eperies, (391.) 
Pesth, (391.) 
Transylvanian, (491.) 


Ancient Gothic, (464.) 

Rhetian (Grisons,) (Appendix.) 

Sette Commt/,Hi dialect, (218.) 

* In this and the few other instances in which I have referred to 
Cavalliere Minarelli's list of the Cardinal's languages, it is amply sup- 
ported by the printed catalogue of his library, which contains several 
works in each language, evidently provided with a view to the study of 



Dialects of Northern and South- 
ern Germany, (243. 


Provencal, (275.) 
Tolosan, (440.) 
Burgundian, (444.) 
Gascon, (463.) 

Bearnais, (440.) 
Lui-raine, (463.) 
Bas Breton, (439.) 


Somersetshire, Yorkshire, and 

Lancashire dialects, (404.) 
Lowland Scotch, (437.) 

I should add that many of these dialects, as the 
Moorish and Berber Arabic, the Spanish of Majorca, 
the Proven9al French, the Italian of Sicily and Sar- 
dinia, and the language of the Grisons or Graubiinden, 
might most justly be described as separate languages, 
at least as regards the difficulty of acquisition. In 
the catalogue of the Cavaliere Minarelli a series of 
languages (the very names of which the reader 
probably never has heard,) are enumerated, chiefly of 
the central and South American families — of the for- 
mer, the Cora, the Tepehuana, the Mistek, the Othomi, 
the Maya ; of the latter, the Paraguay, the Omagua, 
the Aymara, the Canisiana, and the Mobima. I am 
not aware of the authority on which the Cavaliere 
relies in reference to these languages. For the 
majority of them, I must say that I cannot find in 
the catalogue of the Cardinal's library any distinct 
trace whatever of his having studied them ; but it is 
certain that he had given his attention early to the 
languages of these countries ; that he had opportuni- 
ties in Bologna of conversing with ex- Jesuit mission- 
aries from the central and South American provinces ; 
and that the library of the Propaganda, of which he 
had the unrestricted use, contains many printed and 
manuscript elementary works in languages of which 

little trace is elsewhere to be found. 


Summing up, therefore, all the authentic accounts 
of him as yet made public ; discarding the loose 
statements of superficial marvel-mongers, and divest- 
ing the genuine reports, as far as possible, of 
the vagueness by which many of them have been 
characterized, it appears that, in addition to a 
large number of (more than thirty) minor dialects, 
Mezzoftmti was acquainted in various degrees with 
seventy-two languages, popularly, if not scientiiically, 
regarded as distinct : — almost the exact number which 
F. Bresciani ascribes to him ; that of these he spoke 
with freedom, and with a purity of accent, of vo- 
cabulary, and of idiom, rarely attained by foreign- 
ers, no fewer than thirty ; that he was intimately- 
acquainted with all the leading dialects of these ; 
that he spoke less perfectly, (or rather is not shown 
to have possessed the same mastery of) nine others, 
in all of which, however, his pronunciation, at least, 
is described as quite perfect; that he could, (and occa- 
sionally did,) converse in eleven other languages, 
but with what degree of accuracy it is difficult to 
say ; that he could at least initiate a conversation, 
and exchange certain conversational forms in eight 
others ; and that he had studied the structure and 
the elementary vocabularies of fourteen others. As 
regards the languages included in the latter catego- 
ries, it is quite possible that he may also have spoken 
in a certain way some at least among them. So far 
as I have learned, there is no evidence that he 
actually did speak any of them : but with him there 
was little perceptible interval between knowledge of 


the elementary structure and vocabulary of a lan- 
guage, and the power of conversing in it. 

Such is the astounding result to which the united 
evidence of this vast body of witnesses, testifying 
without consent, and indeed for the most part utterly 
unknown to each other, appears irresistibly to lead. I 
am far, I confess, from accepting in their strict letter 
many of the rhetorical expressions of these writers — 
the natural result of warm admiration, however just 
and well founded. I do not believe, for example, that 
in each and all the thirty languages enumerated in the 
first category, the Cardinal actually spoke, as some of 
the witnesses say, ** with all the purity and pro- 
priety of a native ;" that he could not in any one of 
them " be recognized as a foreigner;" or that, in them 
all, he " spoke without the slightest trace of peculiar 
accent." On the contrary, 1 know that, in several of 
these, he made occasional trips. I do not overlook the 
" four minor mistakes " in his German conversation 
with Dr. Tholuck ; nor his occasionally " forgetting 
the marked I in his Polish," nor the criticism of his 
manner in several other languages, as " formed rather 
from books than from conversation." Neither do I 
believe that he had mastered the entire vocabulary 
of each of these languages. Nor shall I even venture 
to say to what point his knowledge of the several 
vocabularies extended. So far from shutting out from 
my judgment the drawbacks on the undiscrimina- 
ting praise heaped upon the Cardinal by some of his 
biographers, which these criticisms imply, I regard 
them as (by recalling it from the realm of legend, ) 


forming the best and most secure foundation of a 
reputation which, allowing for every drawback, far 
transcends all that the world has ever hitherto known. 
I do not say that in all these languages, or perhaps 
in any of them, Cardinal Mezzofanti was the perfect 
paragon which some have described him ; but, re- 
verting to the standard with which I set out, I 
cannot hesitate to infer from these united testimonies, 
that his knowledge of each and every one of the 
leading languages of the world, ancient and modern, 
fully equalled, and in several of these languages excelled, 
the knowledge of those who are commonly reputed 
as accomplished linguists in the several languages, 
even when they have devoted their attention to the 
study of one or other of these languages exclusively. I 
do not say that he was literally faultless in speaking 
these languages ; nor that what I have said is liter- 
ally true of each and every one of the thirty that have 
been enumerated : but, if the attestations recorded in 
this volume have any meaning, they lead to the in- 
evitable conclusion, that in the power of speaking the 
languages in which he was best tried, — whether He- 
brew, or Arabic, or Armenian, or Persian, or Turkish, 
or Albanese, or Maltese, or Greek, or Romaic, or Latin, 
or Italian, or Spanish, or Portuguese, or French, or 
Swedish, or Danish, or Dutch, or Flemish, or English, 
or Russian, or Bohemian, or Magyar, or Chinese ; — his 
success is entirely beyond suspicion, and will bear 
comparison with that of the most accomplished non- 
native masters of these languages, even those who 
have confined themselves to one or two of the num- 


ber. For the few languages upon which I myself 
may presume to speak, I most unhesitatingly adopt 
this conclusion, comparing my recollections of the 
Cardinal with those I retain of almost any other 
foreigner whom 1 have ever heard speak the same 

The reader's recollection of the attainments of the 
most remarkable linguists enumerated in the memoir 
prefixed to this biograjjhy will enable him, therefore, to 
see how immeasurably Cardinal Mezzofanti transcends 
them all. Taking the very highest estimate which 
has been ofiered of their attainments, the list of those 
reputed to have possessed more than ten languages is 
a very short one. Only four — Mithridates, Pico of 
Mirandola, Jonadab Alhanar,and Sir William Jones- 
are said, in the loosest sense, to have passed the limit 
of twenty. To the first two fame ascribes twenty-two, 
to tbe last two twenty -eight languages. Miiller, 
Niebuhr, Fulgence Fresncl, and perhaps Sir John 
Bowring, are usually set down as knowing twenty 
languages. For Elihu Burritt, Csoma de Koros, 
their admirers claim eighteen. Renaudot, the con- 
troversialist, is said to have known seventeen. Professor 
Lee sixteen, and the attainments of the older linguists, 
as Arias Montamus, Martin del Rio, the converted 
Ilabbi l.ibertasCominetus, the Admirable Crich ton — 
are said to have ranged from this down to ten or 
twelve — most of them the ordinarv lanflruafjres 
of learned and of polite society. It is further to be 
observed that in no one of those cases has the evidence 
been examined, the trustworthiness of the witnesses 


considered, or the degrees of knowledge of the various 
languages ascertained. Whatever of doubt rests even 
upon the vaguest statements regarding Mezzofanti, 
applies with double force in every one of the above 

But even putting these considerations aside, and ac- 
cepting the estimates upon the showing of the parties 
themselves or their admirers, how far does the very 
highest of them fall short of what has been demon- 
strated of Cardinal JMezzofanti ! 

II. On the curious question as to the system pursued 
by the Cardinal in the study of languages, I regret 
to say that little light seems now obtainable. The 
variety of systems employed by students is endless. 
The eccentric linguist, Eoberts Jones, described in 
the Introductory Memoir, as soon as he had an 
opportunity of comparing the vocabulary of a new 
language with those which he had already studied, 
■]^roGeeded hj sticking out of it nil those words which 
were common to it with any of the languages already 
familiar to him, and then impressing on his memory 
the words which remained. M. Antoine d'Abbadie 
told me that, in the unwritten languages with which 
he had to deal, his plan was to write out, with the 
aid of an interpreter, a list of about five hundred of 
the leading and most indispensable words, and a few 
conversational forms ; and then to complete his stock 
of words " by the assistance oian intelligent child who 
knew no language hut the one which he was studying ; 
— because children best understand, and most readily 


apprehend, an imperfectly conveyed meaning." Some 
students commence with the vocabulary ; others, with 
the structural forms of a language. With some the 
process is tedious and full of labour : others proceed 
with almost the rapidity of intuition. In comparing 
the various possible systems, it has not unnaturally 
been supposed that the process which, in Cardinal 
Mezzofanti, led to results so rapid and so extraordi- 
nary, might be usefully applied, at least in some 
modified form, to the practical study of languages, 
even on that modest scale in which they enter into 
ordinary education. But unfortunately, even if such 
a fruit could be hoped from his experience, it does 
not appear that the Cardinal possessed any extraor- 
dinary secret, or at least that he ever clearly explained 
to any of his visitors the secret process, if any, which 
he employed. One thing at least is certain, and 
should not be forgotten by those who are always on 
the look out for short roads to learning, that, whatever 
may have been his system, and however it may have 
quickened or facilitated the result for him, it did not 
enable him to dispense with the sedulous and systema- 
tic use of all the ordinary appliances of study, and 
especially of every available means for the acquisi- 
tion of vocabularies, and of practice in their exercise. 
It is true he told M. Libri that he found the learn- 
ing of languages "less difficult than is generally 
thought : that there is but a limited number of 
points to which it is necessary to direct attention ; 
and that, when one is master of these points, the 
remainder follows with great facility j" adding that, 


" when one has learned ten or a dozen languages 
essentially different from each other, one may, with a 
little study and attention, learn any number of them." 
But he also stated to Dr. Tholuck " that his own 
way of learning new languages was no other than 
that of our school-boys, by writing out paradigms and 
words, and committing them to memory." (P. 278.) 
Dictionaries, reading-books, catechisms, vocabularies, 
were anxiously sought by him, and industriously used. 
The society and conversation of strangers was 
eagerly — in one less modest and simple it might 
almost appear obtrusively — courted, and turned to 
advantage. A constant and systematic habit of trans- 
lation and composition both in prose and verse was 
maintained. In a word, nothing can be clearer than 
that with Mezzofanti, as with the humblest cultiva- 
tors of the same study, the process of acquiring each 
new language was, if not slow, at least laborious ; 
and that, with all his extraordinary gifts, the emi- 
nence to which he attained, is in great part to be 
attributed to his own almost unexampled energy, 
and to the perseverance with which he continued to 
cultivate these gifts to the very latest day of his life. 
He understood thoroughly, as all who have ever attained 
to eminence have understood, the true secret of 
study — economical and systematic employment of 
time. The great jurist D'Aguesseau composed one of 
his most valuable works in the scraps of time which 
he was able to save from his wife's uiipunctuality in 
the hour of dinner. Mezzofanti made it a rule, even 
amid his most frequent and most distracting occupa- 


' tions, to turn to account every chance moment in 
■which he was released from actual pressure. No mat- 
ter how brief or how precarious the interval, his 
books and papers were generally at hand. And even 
when no such ap})liance of study were within reach his 
active and self-concentrated mind was constantly en- 
gaged. He possessed a rare power of self-abstrac- 
tion, by which he Avas able to concentrate all his 
faculties upon any language wliich he desired to pursue, 
to the exclusion of all the otliers that he knew. In this 
respect he was entirely independent of books. When 
the great mathematician, Euler, became blind, he was 
able to form the most complicated diagrams, and to 
resolve the most intricate calculations, in his mind. 
Every one has heard, too, of cases like that of the 
prisoner described by Pope : — 

Who, locked from ink and paper, scrawls 
With desjierate charcoal on his darkened walls. 

But Mezzofanti's power of mental study was even 
more wonderful. He had the habit of thinking when 
alone, in each and all of his various languages in 
succession ; so that, without the presence of a second 
individual, he almost enjoyed the advantage of prac- 
tice in conversation ! The only parallel for this ex- 
traordinary mental phenomenon that I know, is a 
story which I have somewhere read, of a musician 
who attained to great perfection as an instrumental 
performer, although hardly ever known to touch an 
instrument for the purpose of practice. This man, 
it is said, was C07istantly practising in his mind ; 
and his fingers were actually observed to be 


always in motion, as though engaged in the act of* 

On the other hand, it is certain that Mezzofanti's 
power of acquiring languages was mainly a gift of 
nature. It is not easy to say in what this natural 
gift consisted. Among the faculties of the mind 
chiefly employed in acquiring language — perception, 
analysis, judgment, and memory — by some it has been 
placed in his intuitive quickness of perception — by 
others in his memory — and by others, in his power 
of analysing the leading inflexional and structural 
characteristics by which each language is distin- 
guished. Others place it in some mysterious deli- 
cacy of his ear, which detected in each language a 
sort of rhythm or systematic structure, and thus 
supplied a key to all its forms But no one of these 
characteristics, taken singly, even in its very highest 
development, will account for a success so entirely 
unexampled. Almost all great linguists, it is true, 
have been remarkable for their powers of memory ; 
but there are many examples of such memory, unac- 
companied by any very peculiar excellence in the 
gift of languages. Still less can it be ascribed ex- 
clusively to any quickness of perception, or any per- 
fection of analytic or synthetic power. Perhaps 
there is no form in which these powers are so won- 
drously displayed, as in the curious phenomena of 
mental arithmetic. And yet I am not aware that any 
of the extraordinary mental calculators has been dis- 
tinguished as a linguist. On the contrary, many of 
them have been singularly deficient in this respect. 


Mr. George Bidder, one of the latent, and in many res- 
pects most creditable, examples of this faculty, confes- 
ses his entire deficiency in talent for literature or lan- 
guage ; and Zachariah Dase, whose performances as a 
calculator almost exceeded all belief, could never 
master a word of any foreign language except a little 

But in Cardinal Mezzofatiti we meet not only each 
of these qualities, but a most perfect and perfectly 
balanced union of them all His memory in itself 
would have made him an object of wonder. Quick 
and tenacious to a degree certainly not inferior to 
any recorded example of the faculty, it was one of the 
most universal in its application of which any record 
is preserved ; embracing every variety of subject — 
not alone the vocabularies and forms which he 
acquired, but every kind of matter to which it was 
directed ; -history, poetry, and even persons and 
personal occurrences. But there was, above all, one 
characteristic in which it was distinguished from 
almost all other memories. Some of those qualities al- 
ready named were possessed by other individuals in an 
equal, if not a greater or more striking, degree. 
Henderson, the player, was said to be able to repeat 
the greater part of the most miscellaneous contents 
of a newspaper after a single reading ; and the 
mental arithmetician just named, Zachariah Das?, 
after dipping his eye over a row of twelve figures, 
could repeat them backwards and forwards, and in 
every other order, and could multiply them instan- 
taneously by one or two figures at pleasure. Some 


memories too possessed this faculty entirely indepen- 
dent of the judgment or the reasoning powers. Pere 
Menestrier Avas able to repeat a long jumble of un- 
meaning names after hearing them but once, and the 
young Corsican mentioned by Padre Menocchio could 
do the same, even after the lapse of an entire year ! 
But the perfection of Mezzofanti's memory was differ- 
ent from all these, and consisted in its extraordinary 
readitiess. Sir W. Hamilton, in one of his notes on 
Reid, happily reviving an old view of Aristotle, distin- 
guishes between memory (f^vrifiri'^ and reminiscence, 
(^avdfivriffig'^ — between spontaneous and elaborated mem- 
ory — memory of intuition, and memory of evolution. 
In Mezzofanti the latter hardly appears to have had 
a place. His memory seems to have acted by intui- 
tion alone. It was not only a rare capacity for stor- 
ing up and retaining the impressions once made upon 
it, no matter how rapid and how various, but a power 
of holding them disti?ict from each other, and ready 
for instant use. And thus, over the vast and various 
assortment of vocabularies which he possessed, he en- 
joyed a control so complete, that he would draw upon 
each and all at pleasure, as the medium for the ex- 
pression of his thoughts ; — just as the experimenta- 
list, by the shifting of a slide, can change, instanta- 
neously and at will, the colour of the light with which 
he illuminates the object of exhibition. Dugald 
Stewart tells the case of a young woman who could 
repeat an entire sermon after a single hearing, and 
whose sole trick of memory consisted inconnectingin 
her mind each part of the di^^coursc with a part of 


the ceiling. It would almost seem as if the memory 
of Mezzofuiiti had some such local division into com- 
partments, in which the several vocabularies could, 
as it were, he stored apart, and through which his 
mind could range at pleasure, culling from each the 
objects or words which it desired, no matter how 
various or how unconnected with each other. 

With such a memory as this to guide its action, 
and to supply the material for its operation, the ex- 
traordinary and almost intuitive power of analysis — 
something in its own order like what Wollaston call- 
ed in William Phillips, the " mathematical sense " — 
which Mczzofanti possessed, and which enabled him at 
once to seize upon the whole system of a language — 
form, structure, idiom, genius, spirit — led by a process 
which it is easy to understand, to the wonderful 
results which this great linguist accomplished. Me- 
mory supplied the material with unfailing abundance 
and regularity. The analytic faculties were the tools 
which the mind employed in operating upon the 
material thus supplied for the use. 

Such appears to have been the mental process. 
But for the practical power of speaking the languages 
thus mastered in theory, Mezzofanti was also in- 
debted to his singularly quick and delicate organiza- 
tion of ear and tongue. It might seem that the for- 
mer of these organs could only enter as a very sub- 
ordinate element, and in a purely mechanical way, 
into the faculty of speech. Indeed the French jour- 
nals of the past month, (February, 1858,) contain 
an account of a deaf and dumb man, M. Moscr, who (of 


course entirely unaided by ear,) has mastered, besides 
Greek and Latin, no fewer than fourteen modern lan- 
guages. But, strange as this may seem, it is certain 
that in Mezzofanti's case the ear, in addition to its 
direct and natural use in comprehending and catch- 
ing up the sounds of languages, and appreciating 
all their delicate varieties and shades, (in which it is 
admitted to have been ready and infallible beyond 
all precedent,) had a nobler, and as it were, more in- 
tellectual function ; that its office was a thing of mind 
as well as of organization ; that he possessed, as it 
were, an inner and liigher sense, distinct from the 
material organ; and that the impressions which this 
sense conveyed, helped him to the structure and the 
philosophical character of language, as well as to its 
rhythm, its vocal sounds, and its peculiar intonations. 
It is difficult to explain the exact mental operation, 
by which this curious result was attained ; but the 
Cardinal himself repeatedly declared his consciousness 
of such an operation, and ascribed to it, in a great 
degree, the rapidity and the ease with which he over- 
came what to others form the main difficulty in the 
study of a language, and with which, having once 
made the first step in each language, he mastered, as if 
by intuition, all the mysteries of its structural system. 
Another element of his wonderful talent was his 
genuine enthusiasm and the unpretending simplicity 
of his character. " Pretension," says Emerson, " may 
sit still, but cannot act." There was no pretension 
about Zvlezzofanti ; nor had he anything of that mor- 
bid intellectual sensitiveness which shrinks from the 


first blunders to which a novice in a foreign lan- 
guage is exposed, and which restrains many from 
the attempt to speak, by the very apprehension of 
failure. * Children, as is well known, learn to speak 
a language more rapidly than their elders. I cannot 
doubt that Mezzofanti's child-like simplicity and in- 
nocence, were among the causes of his wonderful suc- 
cess as a speaker of many tongues. 

It was not to be expected that a man so eminent 
in one absorbing pursuit should have made a very 
distinguished figure in general literature or science. 
Among the many laudatory reports of him which are 
contained in this volume, a few will be found which 
hardly concede to him even a second-rate place as a 
scholar, still less as a philologer. In some of the 
literary circles of Rome, Mezzofanti w^as not popular. 
M. Librif alludes to one source of unfriendly feeling 
in his regard. There is another which may perhaps 
have already struck the reader. From some of 
the facts noticed in the Introductory Memoir of Ger- 
man linguists X and from other incidental allusions, 
the reader will have observed a certain tendency on 
the part of philologers to depreciate the pursuit of 
linguists, and to undervalue its usefulness ; and it 
is precisely from the philologers that this low esti- 
mate of Mezzofanti proceeds. It is only just, how- 

* I once travelled through the entire length of France with a 
friend, who was an excellent book-scholar in the French language, 
but who. from the feeling which I describe, never could prevail on 
himself to attempt to speak French in my presence. During a jour- 
ney of several days, I only heard him utter one solitary oui ; and 
even this was at a time when he was not aware that I was within 


f p. 290. % p. 78. 


ever, to Baroii Buiisen, who is pre-eminently the head 
of the German school of that science, to admit that 
he carefully draws the distinction between the two 
branches of the study of language — that of the lin- 
guist, and that of the philologer. And although 
the natural preference which a student unconsciously 
gives to his own favourite pursuit, no doubt leads 
him to attach little value to what Mezzofanti knew, 
and to dAvell more on what in his opinion he did not 
know, yet it must be said that he gives him full cre- 
dit for his unexampled power as a linguist. 

The Baron's recollections, nevertheless, contain a 
summary of the strictures upon the literary charac- 
ter of Mezzofanti, which v/ere current during his life- 
time — that his learning was merely superficial — that 
in the phrase of the late Mr. Francis Hare, " with the 
keys of the knowledge of every nation in his hand, 
he never unlocked their real treasures ;" that in all the 
countless languages which he spoke he " never said 
anything ;" that he left no work or none of any 
value behind him ; that he was utterly ignorant of 
philology ; that his theology was mere scholas- 
ticism ; that he had no idea of Biblical criticism, and 
that even as a critical Greek scholar, he was very 

It would be a very mistaken zeal for the honour 
of Cardinal Mezzofanti to deny the literal truth of 
several of these criticisms. Most of the branches of 
knowledge in which he is here represented as defi- 
cient, are in themselves the study of an ordinary life. 
To have added them all to what he really did possess, 


would have been a marvel far exceeding the greatest 
wonder that has ever been ascribed to him ; nor was 
any one more ready than the modest Cardinal himself, 
not merely to admit many particulars in Avhich his 
learning was defective, but even to disparage the 
learning which he actually possessed. He confessed 
over and over again, that he was no philologer — that 
he was nothing but " an ill bound dictionary." He 
expressed his regret to Guido Gorres, that he had 
begun his studies at a time when this science was 
not cultivated. He lamented the weakness of his 
chest and other constitutional infirmities, which 
prevented him from writing. He deplored to Car- 
dinal Wiseman, that, when he should be gone, he 
would have left behind him no trace of what he knew. 
. But, notwithstanding his own modest estimate of 
himself, I think enough will be found in the testimonies 
of many unsuspected witnesses embodied in this 
Memoir, to shew that the depreciating strictures, to 
which I have here alluded, are grievously exaggerated. 
Cardinal Mezzofanti certainly was not a scientific 
philologer; but theAbbe Gaume's memorandum proves 
that, while he had little taste for the mere speculative 
part of the subject — for those 

Cloud -built towers by ghostly masons wrought. 
On shadowy thoroughfares of thought — 

he was fully sensible of the true use of the science, 
and had not neglected the study, especially in its 
most important aspect — its bearing upon religious 
history. He was not a professed archaeologist. He 


may have failed in tlie interpretation of the particular 
Greek inscription, to which Baron Bunsen refers ; 
nor did he pursue Greek criticism as a special study. 
But his friends Cavedoni and Laureani, themselves 
accomplislied archseologists, entertained the highest 
respect for his judgment in that study. The Abate 
Matranga bore ample witness to the depth and 
accuracy of his Greek scholarship ; and I myself, in 
the few observations which I heard him offer on the 
Eugubian inscriptions, was struck by the sagacity, the 
precision, and the suggestive spirit which they evinced. 
Far more unjust, however, are Mr. Hare's remark 
about the keys, and the still more disparaging sayitig, 
quoted by Baron Bunsen, which describes Mezzofanti 
as, " with all his forty-two languages, never saying 
anything." The numberless reports of visitors at 
every period of his life, from Mr. Stewart Rose, in 
1817, downwards, which are detailed in this volume, 
put entirely beyond question both his capacity and 
his actual attainments in general literature. Each visi- 
tor, for the most part, found him well acquainted with 
the literature of his own country. Very many of 
them (as Baron Glucky de Stenitzer for Hungary*) 
bear witness to his familiarity with their national 
histories. His conversation with M. Libri, "on the 
most difficult points in the history of India," evinced 
a mind of a very different calibre from what these 
supercilious criticisms suppose : and, from the historian 
of the Mathematical Sciences, it is no ordinary com- 
pliment towards one with whom these can have been 

* P. 391. 


but a subordinate study, that, without a moment's 
preparation, (the subject having been only casually 
introduced by M. Libri,) he " spoke for half-an-hour 
on the astronomy and mathematics of the Indian 
races, in a manner which would have done honour to 
a man whose chief occupation had been tracing the 
history of the sciences." * I must dissent strongly, 
also, from the disparaging opinion that M. Bunsen 
expresses as to the Cardinal's capacity for the more 
strictly professional sciences of Biblical criticism and 
Theology. M. Bunsen, no doubt, when he speaks of 
Biblical criticism, speaks mainly of the German 
School of that science, and very probably of the last 
and most popular critic, Lachmann. Now,with all their 
merits, there is much in the spirit and the language 
of many of these writers, and, I may specially say, of 
Lachmann, against which Mezzofanti's whole mind 
would have revolted ; and I can well understand that, 
between his opinions and those of the Baron regard- 
ing them, there would have been but little sympathy. 
But it is most unjust to Mezzofanti to say that " he 
had no idea" of the subject. One of his earliest literary 
friends was the great Biblical scholar and critic, 
De Kossi. While he was still professor at Bologna, 
the Abate Cavedoni, of Modena, spoke with high 
praise of his ability as a biblical critic. The Abate 
Mellini, professor of Scripture in Bologna, gratefully 
acknowledges the assistance which he derived from 
him in reference to the versions of the Bible : and Car- 
dinal Wiseman, who Avill not be suspected of under- 
valuing any branch of Biblical science, told rac that, 
although it is quite true that Mezzo fonti had no love 

• p. 291 


for the German critics, and though he never was a 
professed critic himself, he was nevertheless quite 
conversant with the science, and understood its 
history and its principles, and the divisions of MMS., 
recensions, families, &c., perfectly well. 

As to Theology, his reputation in Rome was not 
high. Yet his attainments, especially in moral theo- 
logy, were considered respectable. The readers of Sir 
W. Hamilton will not look on the charge of " scholas- 
ticism " as any very grave disparagement ; but I must 
add that neither did Mezzofanti neglect the modern 
divines, even those outside of Italy. With Guide 
Gorres he spoke of Mohler's well-known Symholih^ 
although it Avas at that period but little known beyond 
the limit§ of Germany. 

As a preacher, Mezzofanti, though earnest and 
impressive, never was in any way remarkable. He 
confined himself chiefly to the duty of catechetical 
instruction j and in Rome his only efforts as a 
preacher, were the short and simple exhortations 
addressed to children at the time of admitting thera 
to their first Communion — a duty of the ministry 
which was especially dear to him. 

The truth is, that all these criticisms of Mezzofanti, 
and the impressions as to the superficial character of 
his acquirements which they embody, have emanated 
for the most part from casual visitors, who saw him 
but for a brief space, and whose opportunity of test- 
ing his knowledge was probably limited to a few 
questions and answers, in a language not his own ; 
the main object of the visit being, not to sound the 
depth or accuracy of his knowledge in itself, but 


merely the fluency and correctness of his manner of 
speaking the language in which the visitor desired to 
try him. Whereas, on the contrary, those who bear 
witness to the solidity of his information and the 
vast range of his knowledge, are those who knew him 
long and intimately; who met him as a friend and com- 
panion, not as an object of curiosity, and of wonder ; 
and whose estimate of him was founded upon the 
impressions of familiar and every-day intercourse — 
tlie only safe test of character or of acquirements. 

There is more truth in the strictures upon Mezzo- 
fanti as a writer. In this respect, indeed, he is known 
very little ; for his only published composition, the 
Panegyric of Father Aponte, and the fugitive poeti- 
•cal exercises in the appendix of this Memoir, can 
hardly be said to place him in the category of authors. 
Unhappily, indeed, the spirit of authorship is, with 
many, a question rather of temperament than of abil- 
ity. In some it is the very breath of their life — an ac- 
tual necessity of existence. To others it is a barren and 
ungrateful labour — undertaken with reluctance, and 
pursued without satisfaction. Southey used to say, 
that he never felt fully master of himself and of all 
his unclouded faculties, till he found himself seated 
at his desk. The current of his thoughts never 
flowed freely except through his pen. On the con- 
trary, Magliabecchi — the living library — tlie helluo 
lihrorum — never could prevail on himself to publish 
a single line ! Unfortunately for science, Mezzofanti 
was of the latter class. Partly from constitutional 
delicacy, and especially from Avcakness of the chest, 


the effort of writing was to him irksome and even 
injurious. Partly too, no doubt, the same constitu- 
tional tendency of mind which rendered speaking easy 
and attractive, indisposed him for the more toilsome — 
to him positively distressing — mode of communicating 
his thoughts by writing. Except for the purposes of 
private study, therefore, he seldom wrote more than 
some fugitive piece ; and, even when he was prevailed 
on to write at greater length, he was seldom sufficiently 
satisfied with his own performances to permit them to 
he made public. Several, even of these essays which 
were read by him in the learned societies of Bologna 
and Rome, are known to have been destroyed by him- 
self before his death ; including some which, from 
their title and subject, might naturally have been ex- 
pected to afford some insight into the character of 
his mind, and his capacity for dealing with the philoso- 
phy of language. 

Accordingly, the small figure which he made as a 
writer, and the little trace which he has left behind him 
of the vast stores of languages which he had laid up 
during life, have led to an undue depreciation of his 
career, as objectless and unprofitable, whether to 
himself or to his fellow-men. Whatever be the truth 
of this estimate, no one was more painfully sensible 
of it than the Cardinal himself. Many of his ex- 
pressions of regret have been already recorded ; but 
only those who knew him intimately, could know 
the depth and sincerity of his repinings. Still, 
although it is not possible to avoid sharing in this 
regret, he would be very exacting, indeed, and would 
set up for himself a very terrible standard whereby 


to judge bis own conduct, who could venture to pro- 
nounce such a career as Mezzofanti's empty or un- 
profitable. Even if we put aside entirely tbe con- 
sideration of his literary life, and test him by tbe 
rules of personal duty alone, the life of Cardinal 
Mezzofanti was a model of every virtue of tbe Chris- 
tian and of tbe priest. Devout almost to scrupulous- 
ness, sincerely bumble, simple in bis habits, modest 
and unexacting in his own person, but spending 
himself unhesitatingly in the service of others ; 
courteous, amiable, affectionate, warm in his friend- 
ships, he was known only to be loved, and be never 
forfeited a friendship which he once bad formed. 
His benevolence was of the true Christian stamp — 
not a mere unreflecting impulse, but a sustained and 
systematic love of his fellow creatures. Although bis 
charity was of tbe tenderest and most melting kind — 
although in truth, like Goldsmith's Vicar, 

His pity gave, ere charity began — 
although his alms, limited as were his means, were so 
prodigal as to earn for him the sobriquet of Monsignor 
Limosiniere, " My Lord Almoner;' — yet it would be 
a great mistake to measure his benevolence by tbe ac 
tual extent of poverty which it. relieved, or of the assist- 
ance it administered. His active spirit grasped every 
detail of this work of God — tbe care of tbe sick, tbe in^ 
struction of tbe young, tbe edification and enlight- 
ment of tbe stranger ; — nay, the very courtesies of 
social intercourse had for him all the sacred signifi- 
cance of a duty; and, while he never offended the 
sensibility of bis companions by unseasonably obtru- 


ding over-serious conversation, yet he never lost 
sight, even in his lightest hours, of the obligation of 
good example and edification which his position and 
character imposed uponliim . 

And as regards the great pursuit of his literary 
life, which some have presumed to deny as '* empty 
word-knowledge," and unprofitable display, it must 
never be forgotten — even though we should be con- 
tent to judge its value by the selfish standard of 
mere utility — that, for himself, one of its earliest and 
most attractive, as well as most endearing sources of 
interest, lay in the opportunity which it afforded 
him for the exercise of his sacred ministry and the 
only less sacred ofiices of charity and humanity ; 
that many of its most precious acquisitions were 
gathered in these very exercises of religion and of 
benevolence ; that his usual text books in each new 
language were the catechism and the Bible ; and 
that his favourite theatre for the display of his gifts 
were the sick wards of the hospitals of Bologna, 
the Santo Spirito or the House of Catechumens at 
Rome, and the halls and camerate of the great Mis- 
sionary College of the Propaganda. 

For myself, I cannot envy the moral and intellectual 
utilitarianism, which pauses to measure by so paltry a 
standard a great psychological phenomenon, such as 
Nature, in the most prodigal exercise of her powers, 
has never before given to man to see. As well might 
we shut our eyes to the glory of those splendid 
meteors which at intervals illumine the sky, because 
we are unable to see what cold and sordid purpose of 
human utility they may be made to subserve. 


I prefer to look to him with grateful und affection- 
ate admiration, as a great example of the success- 
ful cultivation of one of the noblest of God's gifts to 
His creatures ; — as the man who has approached 
nearest to the withdrawal of that barrier to inter- 
communion of speech which, in punishment of human 
pride, was set up at Babel ; and of whom, more 
literally than of any other son of Adam, it may be 
said, that he could 

Hold converse with all forms 
Of the uiany-sided luiad. 


f^Alltision is made, more than once, in this volume, to Cardinal 
Mezzofanti's habit of amusing himself and his friends by writing 
short metrical pieces in vaiious languages, and of composing or 
correcting the odes recited by the pupils at the annual Polyglot 
Academy of the Propaganda. In the absence of other data (or 
judging of his skill as a linguist, these fragments, trifling though 
they be, are of considerable interest ; and 1 had hopes of being 
able to form a little collection of them, as a contribution to the 
enquiry regarding him. Unfortunately my search for these re- 
mains, trivial and fugitive as most of them must have been, has 
been very unsuccessful. I am only able to add a few to those 
which appear in the sheet of fac-similes, or which have been 
already incidentally introduced in the course of the naiTative. 

The short pieces recited at the Propaganda Academy, being 
the property of the pupils theniselves, are not preserved in the 
college archives. I have only succeeded in obtaining four of these 
pieces : — two from Rome, a Greek Anacreontic Ode, and a couple 
of stanzas in the Grisons dialect ; and two in Angolese from the 
Rev. Charles Fernando, Missionary Apostolic in Ceylon. 

The Abbate Mazza, Vice Rector of the Pontifical Seminary 
at Bologna, has kindly sent me a Hebrew Psalm addressed by 
Mezzofanti, as a tribute on his Jubilee (or the fiftieth anniversary 
of his ordination as a priest), to his old friend and master. Father 
Emmanuel Aponte ; and a Latin Hexameter Poem, descriptive 
of St. Peter's Church at Rome, recited by him in the Accademia 
degli Arcadi, on his being elected a member of that body. 

These little pieces, it need hardly be said, are oflTered merely 
as specimens of Mezzofanti's power as a linguist, and not as 
possessing any striking excellence, whether of poetry or senti- 
ment. It is only just to his memory to add that, judging from 
his well-known habit of composition, they may all be presumed 
to be literally impromptu, and are entitled to the full indulgence 
usually accorded to such productions.] 


1. Hebrew Psalm* addressed to Father Emmanuel Aporde — 
oti the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination. 

-iwrin D"ib\y y^niyn y^nwra -iu>sj2 -|>b3-) c-'^j by iiKa nw ,a 

nnnu;n nST^n rxn n-irnn -jx:! mys iD*ji")N2 naa -iix .a 
^3S 11X1 n3''3 "•lyin hnb nn: iotdi nyi rT':iini 

la-iry INT T-iyyn baa ^stn 

D"«u;"')2n nnxi >aix niaaiyrs xi:ab -iwaa nsbnn Dvn nan .n 
by Dbiy ^na p-'by bxb ^hd y^i onb Tiy x2iin mau; 

-jiji-Dbn Tnn 
T>Dn D1U Tpr nbnn o layiy^-iiyb nyi\yn naTxb laaa iDb .n 

la-'Ty -inabi vasb bbsnnb ^nab vbx nu?ab ib 
nwain iwb cnnn -[bn ••3 iiisi ]n bxianrb o-ix nna .1 

n'»73bn imjr nay iiaan ^bn o^nbx -larx "jab nr-iyi .r 
irritayn n2-iai p^Jii cd>j21 -j-ix ib ^n aito ipr 

Latin Translation. 
Josephus Mezzofaiiti. 

1. Nomen tiium, Emanuel, nomen bonuin, sicut oleum effusum, 
propterea excurrerunt adolescentes, et dilexerunt te. Et 
senes ipsi quoque qiigesierunt sapientiam labiorum tuorum, 

\l. Quam speciosi fuerunt in insulis pedes tui, evangelizans pre- 
dicator! prsedicans pacem, evangelizans bouum, praedicans 

3. Luxfulsit in terra nostra, quando \enisti ab oviente : ex eo 
tempore magnificasti Igetitiam et multiplicasti scientiaui, et 
eruditionem dedisti omnibus qiiseientibus intelligentiam; et 
lumen vultus Domini in omnibus operibus luis videruut 
oculi nostri. 
1. Ecce hodie innovas te sicut aquila, ut intres in habitacula Do- 
mini: et post quinquaginia annos prefers adluic panem et 
vinum, sacerdos Dei Allissimi, sacerdos in eternum 
secundum ordinem Melchisedec. 

6. Venite exultemus Domino, jnbilemus petrse salutis nostrae ; 
quia segregavit senem bonum sanctum sibi. ut accederet 
ad eum, ut lungerelur sacerdotio, ut ovaiet ante (aciem ejus, 
ut piopiliarel siq)er uos. 

• Tlicre is little originality in tliis piece, tlie words and forms being 
closely scriptural. It is witliout points, but lie occasionally, also, 
employed them in wiiting Hebrew. 


t). Dedisti Domine Emanueli gratiain et gloriani, quia anibulavit 
in iiitegritate, docuit sapientiani, et operatus est justitiain. 

7. Nunc ergo inclina aurem tiiam, Deus Rex Gloriie ! Exaudi 
servos tuos, discipulos senis boni ! Da illi longitudinem 
dieruin et beneplacito ac benedictione corona bis ilium ! 

II. Greelc Anacreontic Ode " On the Adoration of the Shep- 
herds," composed for the Propaganda Academy. 
'O -/.at^hg r}/.d-v r,bri 
'Oi i'idav (I'l -rr^^ofr^ar 
Tiog 5' 6 la Qidio 
*E^ ipavuv xalrjAdsv, 

AuTo? 5' "Ava^ dvaxiwv, 
*Ex Ha^^svn yiv^hg, 
Q^oiov Qi'jj ■~^i'Z(iv\a 
Ojk iiyjv, aK}^a <pa\yov. 
'O h' A'yyiXoc, rra^acldg 
ToTg '^roi/Mdiv, 
'rig 'Aoe/Mis ri'/J b 1u\rj^. 
O/ S i-j^suig 'kafSovlii 
Awga ^^s<psi (p'ssadi, 
Xag;v S a--' allis sv^ov, 
Tiivri? 6' oAw; a/x' dvro'ig 
'A/ivovVjv iiXi /J,iwj 
"HviyxB lui Kioyvw. 
'O TLaig o^aTov a/ivo'c, 
Ka/ rr^ogyiyM hihoCli. 
T/ lol' ; 'EyvM y'do a'Jls 

' O crjSoc hliv d/Mvog 
' Ajjja^iag dfawuv 
Ti xoV/xaf — A,av=, ;;^a7g£ ! 
"A*©!' d' a/zajl/aj /ioo ! 
"A^ov — yjxoivis bog fjjOi ! 

III. Latin Hexameter Poem, recited in the Arcadian Academy 

at Rome. 

J. M. 


Ronnileas Arces, fulgentia Templa Tonautis 
Quae fuerant dudum, conscendo niunere vestro, 
Arcades ; et celsas sedes teneo. Areas et ipse, 
Et parvi custos neuioris. Sed non ego doclus. 


Aut calamos inflare leves, aut dicere versus ; 
At geminare soiios gaudens, et reddere voces, 
Quas loiiginqua edit gens, aut contennina nostrae. 

Hie adsum, florens postquam est exacta juvenla, 
Tenipoiaque adventans mihi tavdior inficit aetas, 
Adsumus hie, patriosque lares, et linquinius arva, 
Pinguia quae Rheni preterfluit unda uiinoris: 
Linquimus et colles, variuin quels Daedala tellus 
Submittlt florem etvites — tua munera, Bacclie ! 
Linquimus et turres, quarnm altera eelsa niinatur 
111 cffilum, iuipendit prsefracto vertiee flexa 
Altera, nutanti similis jam jainque ruenti. 
Adsumus hie tandem, Eumetes* eum tempora vilta 
Tergemina redirait, coelique oracula promit. 
Seilicet hie nobis suprema e sede benignus, 
Annuit. iEternam turn nos advenimus Urbem. 

Hie vestra assidue lustrans decora alta, Quirites, 
Quaeque reeens tulit, et quaj prisci teinporis aetas. 
Vocibus hajc refero, " Vos terque, qualeique beati, 
Non peritura quibus vulgata est fama per orbem !" 
Eximia at quoties cerno heic monumenta virorum, 
Felsina quos aluit, quosve extulit infula Petri, 
Quive aedes vestras decorant et Terapla, Quirites, 
Tunc animus nobis jxitrife exardescit ainore ! 
Dulcia tunc nostrum pertentant gaudia pectus ! 

Tum Templum ingressus, quo nil preestantius aevjs, 

Praeteritis vidit Sol, aspicietque futuris, 

Admiror molem ingentem, artificumque labores. 

En mihi spectanti lulget morientis imago, 

Mira senisjf sapiens qui dia volumina pandit ! 

Aspice, ut in genua is procumbens corpora toto, 

Brachia demitlit, languentia lumina torquet, 

Et capit extrema, eternae sed pabula vitse, 

Illic cerne modo, ut nialo suspeiiditnr alto , 

Saevi qui morbi contagia depulit Urbe ! 

Hinc miles validis incurvat viribus arcum, 

Atque hinc acer eqnus permissis fertur habenis : — 

Difi'ugiunt matres, pueriqiie, ignobile vulgus; — 

Ast Heros ad coelum ardentia lumina tendit, 

Dicenti similis : — " Nostrum accipe, Christe, cruorem ! ' 

Protinus en Michael exerto devolat ense,+ 

* Eumetes was the rame under which, by ancient usage of the Arcadi, 
Gregory XVI., before his elevation, had been enrolled in their Academy. 
t Domenichino's Communion of St. Jerome. 
X Communion of St. Sebastian, also by Domenichino. 


Ac moiislriim horiendiim sub tristia Tartara mittit, 
Parte alia occubuit ccelesti percita ainore. 
Et volat ad superos virgo de germine Petri !* 

HsBc praeclara artis rairacnla, Felsina prodis, 

111 tiia cum varios inducis vela colores ! 

Sed qiiinain efrulgent niveo de marmore viiltus ! 

En opus, en ! — Algarde, tiuim, et spirantia signal f 

Attilahic, ille Leo: demissi nubibus instant 

Et Petrus et Paulus, niagnae tatamina Roma; ! 

Attila terraruni nietus, et squalentibus annis, 

HoiTidus, ense ferox ^Alartis, (sic namque putaret, 

Enseni quem Pastor vitnlse vestigia liEsae, 

Atra cruore sequens Scythiis invenerat agi'is,) 

Elatosque gerens animos coelique flage lum, 

Sese conipellans, sibi totuui adsciveiat Orbem. 

Ergo suis atrox ermnpit sedibus, atque 

Bella ciet populis late, crudelia bella ; 

Omnia namque furens ferro jjopulatur et igne ; 

Efferus incedit per membra fluentia tabo; 

Respicit, et gaiidet loca jam convulsa ruinis. 

Immites primum Dacas juga ferre coegit ; 

Turn quoque Bistonios, dein Odrysiosque feroces; 

Illyriumque ; tuas exin, Gennania, terras ! 

Ilium nee Rhenus nee Gallia terrct ovantem ; 

Pulsus, proh, remeat, pelagi cen refluit unda ! 

Ocius ills donuim rediit : ])udor incitat iras; 

Agmina dira legit, bellumque ferocius urget, 

Ac nova Romanse nieditatur praelia genti. 

Qualis percussus saevo leo vulnere, pugnam 

Integral, et late silvas rugitibus implet ; 

Talem Hunnorum Rex gestans in corde furorem, 

Italiae ingreditur campos el milite complet. 

Omnis huino fumatjam Aquileja; INIediolanum, 

Et V^erona ruunt; Ticinum et PaiTna fatiscunt: 

Attila per medias caedes bacchatur et ignes : 

Sed nibil ille actum reputat, dum Roma supersles. 

Ire parat Romam : convellit signa, movetque 

ALmina; cen apium ducunt examina reges ! 

Tunc ilium miles dictisaflatur aniicis. 

" Quo tibi nunc iter ? Heu ! acies Alaricus in Urbem, 

Induxit ; — mox ingreditur duin maenia Rhegi, 

Connubiumque parat, fato decedit acerbo !" 

• Guercino's St. Petronilla. 

t Algardi's bas-relief group of Attila and St. Leo. 


Haec audit, dubiusque ha;ret. Mox aestuat iia 
Dux, inovet et castra. Est eadeiw senteiitia menti, 
Cum subito miserisque dolens, et coelitus actus, 
Magnus adest Leo, sacra vitta et veste decorus. 
Constitit ille tremens, stiipet, et vox faucibus haerei! 
Verba deinde audit dulci stillantia melle ; 
Mitescunt animi dictis, et corda residunt. 
" Attila quo cessere minse, quo spiritus acer ?'' 
HcEC miles. Contra Hunnorum Rex talia fatur : 
" Nonne duos aetate graves atque ore severo, 
Delapsos caelo spectas mortemque niinantes, 
Districtis gladiis ? Feror hinc ! — Jam tollite signa, 
Et patrios fines, montes silvasque petamus : — 
Mens baud ilia mihi bello contendere Divis !" 
Haec ait, et nostris excedit finibus Hunnus. 
Ast iiullae servant latebrae, nullique recessus, 
Persequitur quos ira Dei. Namque Attila, solvit 
Dum metibus sese, parat et dulces hj'ruenaeos, 
Occubuit proprio suffusus nocte cruore ! 
Est Deus in coelis fandi memor atque nefandi ! 
At Leo contendit Romam, jussitque lubentes, 
Et Petro et Paulo persolvere vota Quirites ; 
Et Petrus et Paulus resonant per templa, per aedes ! 

Felix Roma ! Tibihsec data sunt munimina ccelo ! 
Et dedit Eumetem mitis Deus atque benignus ! 
Iniperat Eumetes, et pax dominabitur Orbi ! 
Arcades, o Petrum et Paulum celebrate canentes ; 
Et vestros repetent septena cacumina versus ! 

Vos Petri Paulique fidem servate, Quirites ! 
Eternum servate fidem, servabitis Urbem ! 

IV. Epiphany Ode in the Angolese language, written for the 
Academy of J 845.* 

He Zambi ! Mubundulula, 

Mubundulula coettu. 

Mu Quixixi Quitombi, 

Quitombi, O — vundu, 

O Riala muca cuffua mucutu, 

Muca ! Pnhia ! 


Kieno ki Miscino, 

Skitatu miscino, 

A — ssueta a Belem, 

* As I have no knovvleJge of this or the Grisons language, I fear the 
orthography will be fouud inaccurate. 


A-beza camona, 
Camona cafeli. 
Una camona Zanibi, 
Zainbi ni Riala ni, 
Mubundulula via Quinixi, 
Ocutanhinha u-a-gile, 
Hi Riala ! batessa ocutanhinha, 
Beza a-camona, 
A-camona cafeli, 
Eye muca muno, 

V. Angolese Ode for the Academy of 184G. 

Tctembuca, Tctembuca ! 

I'nhai ? Kieno ki, 

Aiiiona — Miscino, 

Kitatu Misciso, 

A-bocala uionsu, 

Monsu via Kian cu, 

Kieno -ki ! una-a-beza, 

A-beza camona, 

Camona cafeli. 

Ah ! nghi-bala cana, 

Tina camona Zarabi, 

Monandanghi Zambi, 

Mubundulula, Mobundulala, coettu ! 

VI. Epiphany Ode in the GrisonSy or Grauhilnden, Dialect. 

Steila che partas legerment, 
E trej reigs clomag d'alg orient, 
Ti clara steila ventireila, 
Meinag a Dieu I'olma fideiola ! 

O Telg da Dieu ! o mig salvader ! 

D'ilg pievelg tuttig ti ey sprindrader ! 

Gloria al Bab che Ti ha enviau ! 

Piugch alg Chrislgang che Ti has Irosligian ! 

VII. [The following epigram was addressed to Cardinal Lam- 
bruschini on the appearance of his Essay on the Immaculate 
Conception of the B.V.M. It is hardly worthy of the subject.] 
Tota es pulcra, DEI Genitrix, ab origine pulcra es ! 

Hoc decuit, potuit, fecit et Omnipotens. 
Asserit invictus decus hoc Tibi fulgidus ostro 
Auctor. Scriptorem protege, Virgo, tuum. 


The Italian version which accompanied it is much more happy. 

Tutta se'bella, o di DIO Madre ; 

Sin da principio bella tu se. 

Cosi addicevasi, e il Sommo Padre 

Tutto potendo, cosi pur fe. ■ 

Or Ti mantiene un tanto onore. Ml 

Chi d' ostro fulgido tra lo splendor, 
A' penna invitta di grande Aiitore : 
Proteggi, Vergine, il tuo Scrittor ! 

VIII. French Stanza gioen to children after their First 

Demandez an bon Dieu le don de la sagesse ; 
C'est le veritable tresor ! — demandez-le sans cesse ! 
Mais it faut le chercher avec simplicite 
Pour guide, mes enfans, prenant la Pietd, 

IX. Italian Stanza. 

Di mille voci e mille quanto al cuore 
Piu soave e gradita e la parola, 
Che un afflitto consola, 
E I'anima solleva al Creatore ! 

X. English verses given to an Irish student on his leaving the 

*' May Christ be on your lips and heart ! 
Show forth by facts what words impart ; 
That, by sound words and good behaviour. 
You may lead others to the Saviour." 

XI. Written for a student. 

O man, what is thy science ? — Vanity : 
And thou art nothing without charity. 


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University of California 


>int uiinard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA wu^:'* looo 

405 H-'a^'^^^jJ^^his material to the library 

from which It was borrowed. 

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